Many people think the return of the songbirds is the first sign of spring, but to the children and parents involved in the Kannapolis Dixie Youth Baseball league, the sure sign is the tryouts for the upcoming season.
It seemed a little out of place when the players, who were throwing snowballs the day before, were wearing heavy coats as they tried out Feb. 28 with a thin coat of snow in the outfield.
The first group to show their skills to coaches in the coldest temperatures were the 5-year-olds.
Blake Humpal, 4, had played two seasons on the instructional teams – for players ages 3 to 4 – and will turn 5 before the games start, making him eligible for his first try out. When the first grounder – a hit ball rolling on the ground – headed his way, he lined up, used his free hand to hold his coat back and bent over, catching the ball in his mitt.
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The instructional teams had prepared Blake well: He transferred the muddy ball into his throwing hand, set his feet in the proper stance and made the throw to first like a seasoned infielder three or four times his age. He handled the next two grounders in the same proficient manner before swinging a bat a few times and running the bases for the coaches.
During the tryouts, coaches evaluated the 90 players, ages 5-12, who tried out for the draft to be held in the following week.
Chris Duplisea, vice president for the Kannapolis Dixie Youth Baseball league, said that the number of players is up from last year, with about 200 players registered.
“Our 12-and-under all-star team won district and placed fourth in the state finals last year,” he said.
Duplisea feels they have a chance to do even better: “We have almost all of the same players from that team coming back, so I’m looking for a good showing this year.”
Wearing a knit hat to keep warm, with one pant leg rolled up to about mid shin, 6-year-old Allen Jones Jr. was all smiles as he went through his try out. Reaching the dugout afterward Allen said, “I did good,” before joining the others, cheering on the next player.
Nick Cherry, 6, shouted, “Go, Caleb! Go, Caleb,” as Caleb Stirewalt, 5, ran the bases with CJ Loftis, president of the Kannapolis Dixie Youth Baseball league, in hot pursuit, trying unsuccessfully to tag him.
The players will have to wait for the draft to find out who their coaches and teammates will be, but they already know the first practice is scheduled for March 11. They hope that by then it will be warmer and they won’t have to wear their heavy coats.
Marty Price is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marty? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org