LUMBERTON — For the last 10 years, Robeson County Parks and Recreation has offered a Babe Ruth baseball league to teenage players around the county.
The only problem, Ricky McKinnon said, was an age limit that kept 17- and 18-year-old players off the field .
“We had a great desire from people contacting us about the kids that are 17 and 18, they’ve got nothing to do, and they talked to us about letting them play baseball a little longer,” said McKinnon, the department’s assistant director.
It won’t be an issue any longer.
The county will debut a revamped Babe Ruth program on Saturday, breaking play into separate leagues for players aged 13-15 and 16-18. The season starts at 9 a.m. with games played throughout the day at both Tom Cope Park in Red Springs and Purnell Swett High School in Pembroke.
“By adding the two ages, the 17- and 18-year-olds, you add a bunch more kids that wouldn’t be playing,” McKinnon said. “A kid that played last year for us as a 16-year-old, he felt like he was through. ‘My baseball is over with. I’m in 11th grade but I can’t play anymore.’ Now he can, for two more years.”
Interested players can join the leagues after opening day.
The leagues include teams from around the county, including Pembroke, Union, Fairmont, St. Pauls, Red Springs, Union Chapel, Prospect, Little Field, Deep Branch, South Robeson. Teams from Hoke County also participate. Lumberton Youth Baseball Association offers a separate Babe Ruth program for the Lumberton area.
In total, the two leagues have 24 teams and an estimated 200 more players than last year.
The county also expanded its softball offering to the same age groups, with 12 total teams.
Wendy Chavis, the director of the department, said the move came with increased costs, including a need for more experienced officials to work the games of the older players. The increase was offset with help from Robeson County Commissioners.
“They’re always there willing to cover the costs,” Chavis said.
The leagues allow for all high school players and some college freshmen to stay active during the summer season. Top teams can advance to Babe Ruth tournaments outside the county, which in the past has resulted in both state and national championships for local teams.
“Babe Ruth baseball is a big thing in this county and we feel like we’ve enhanced this program by adding this extra league to it,” McKinnon said.