Jun. 12—LEESBURG — No, this story is not about a movie. It's a real-life story.
In February, my son Levi took his son, Keaton, to the 11—12-year-old Lee County Youth Baseball tryouts, an organization affiliated with Dizzy Dean Baseball. Levi and others were told that they were short a coach and needed someone to volunteer so that all the boys could play.
Levi answered the call and agreed to be one of the coaches. Ironically, the same thing happened the first year Levi played. He started out in Albany playing T-ball. They also did not have enough coaches. One of Levi's friends, Chris, was going to play T-ball, too. Chris' mother, Joan, was a friend of mine. Joan and I agreed to coach the team. We were the Pirates.
We moved the following year, and Levi started playing Lee County Youth Baseball. His coach discovered that he could pitch, and he played there for many years until high school. He attended Byne Christian School and was on their baseball team. In his senior year, he was awarded the State MVP for Byne's division. To say that our family loves baseball would be an understatement.
After Levi decided to be a volunteer coach, my husband, Connell, got a call. Levi asked his dad if he would help him coach the team. Connell had coached Levi some of his Lee County baseball years. Now, Levi and Connell have a special father-son relationship. Levi knows that he can ask his dad to help him in any situation. Of course Connell said, "Yes."
They went to the Lee County Rec Department, along with all the other coaches, and teams were selected. Now, they really didn't know many of the boys because this was Keaton's second year playing Lee County baseball. They chose 10 boys for the team: Keaton A., Aidan, Conley, TJ, Puma and Tyga (the mighty duo brothers), Gavin, Dominic, Keaton T., and Dierks. Their team's name would be the Pirates. Once again, Levi would be a Pirate. This time as a coach.
The coaches contacted the parents of the players and were able to have GroupMe texts to keep everyone informed about anything they needed to know about practices and the games. Each team must have a sponsor to donate money for the team T-shirts and other costs. Connell called Clay at Georgia Electric Associates, and he said, "Absolutely! No problem."
Clay is a former business associate of Connell's and was also a catcher on one of Connell's baseball teams in earlier years. Georgia Electric Associates would be on the back of the Pirates' T-shirts. Families also ordered T-shirts to show support for the Pirates.
Practices began, and Conley's father, Barry, was at every one of them. He started helping with the boys. He is also a travel baseball coach and has a lot of experience. It wasn't long before Connell stepped aside and let Barry take his spot as assistant coach.
The games began in March, and before each game the Pirates would walk to the dugout with music playing. Their favorite songs were AC/DC's "Back in Black," The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," and DJ Kool's "Let me Clear my Throat." After each game, the coaches would gather the boys and talk to them about the game.
Coaches Levi and Barry had great success. The Pirates played 11 regular-season games and played on the same field Levi had played on when he was 11 and 12. They tied one, lost one, and won nine games. In one game, we even had four home runs, thanks to Tyga, Keaton T., Conley, and Gavin. Each player made clutch plays that would help us to win. They were in first place and would be in the playoffs. Five teams would compete in a double elimination tournament. They were the Pirates, Braves, Phillies, Marlins, and Giants.
The Pirates received a bye for finishing in first place and advanced to the next round of games. For the final game, Levi wore one of his Lee County All Stars hats that was 30 years old. They played three games, won all three and won the tournament. They were the champions and No. 1.
They were awarded rings for this distinction. Levi and Barry also became the All Star coaches, They will play the Albany All Stars and be in the Lee County Invitational.
The Pirates had worked hard. They listened to their coaches and played as a team. They cheered each other on. When the coaches talked to the boys before, during, and after each game, every team player received encouragement and guidance. They were taught life skills that will follow them through the rest of their lives. They learned how to work with people and put others first. They learned techniques, styles, and problem-solving skills.
Through discipline and determination, they learned to never give up. It was a heart-breaker when they lost a game, but the coaches told them that they were proud of them. They stressed that even in a loss valuable lessons can be learned and that you must move on. They learned how to have good sportsmanship and have the good benefits of being physically active. They learned how to have fun. They really seemed to enjoy being Pirates.
Each boy on the Pirates has dreams that they want to see fulfilled one day. Coaches Levi, Connell and Barry built a great team.
If you go to the Lee County Youth Baseball complex, you will see several fields. There are hundreds of vehicles parked there during the season. Families and friends come to see the kids play. These fields of dreams were built, and the people will come ... to see a great American sport.
With pride and youthful hopes, they will participate in the cheering of their chosen teams. For a few hours of time, the world's problems don't seem so big. Spectators cheer others on, are filled with wonder, and whether their team win or lose, they can still have a good time. Baseball, the stuff dreams can be made of.