LUMBERTON — The excitement of hosting the Dixie Youth World Series in Lumberton began in the parking lot as cars and trucks advertised, “Mississippi All-Stars – World Series Bound” and “#1 Louisiana – World Series Bound.”
The Raymond Pennington Athletic Complex, which will be shared with young baseball players from 11 states, was getting good reviews.
“This is a great ballpark,” said Jason Pilkington, a parent from Tennessee. “Everything is great, the kids loved the opening ceremony with the fireworks.”
Dixie Youth National Director Kenneth Britt agreed that Lumberton has a first class facility and is running a great show.
“I haven’t missed a World Series is 36 years,” Britt said. “It’s great fun for the kids, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Kirsten Tyler, a parent from South Carolina, was making memories as she sat under a tent between games.
“I bought a World Series towel for everyone on the team,” Tyler said. “They are for their pin collection, and they hope to get pins from all 11 states.”
Some parents gave up summer vacations to follow their teams to Lumberton, and some turned the trip into a vacation.
“We drove 10 hours from Tennessee, got here on Wednesday, then drove to Carolina Beach,” said Kyle Sanders. “My mom had never seen the ocean.”
Jeremy Britt, who coaches and pitches for Lumberton’s coach-pitch team, played in the Dixie Youth World Series as a youngster and his son is playing this weekend. His mother remembers it well.
“I drove them to Virginia, and it was a great time,” said Norma Britt. “I took the boys to Arlington National Cemetery to watch the changing of the guard.”
Lumberton parents, grandparents and friends showed up in force for their team’s first game. They built a solid row of tents along the third base line into the outfield.
“We’ve got a good team with some strong hitters,” Britt said. “Our hope is that they play together and have a good time.”
Parents, like Becky Snedigar, were more nervous than the players. She and fellow parent Heidi Lowery chewed on sunflower seeds and never sat down while they cheered on their team from Beulah, Ala.
“This is a big deal for our town,” Snedigar said. “This is the first time a team from Beulah has ever gotten to the World Series. The town is not even incorporated.”
Lunenburg County, which is in Virginia, also has an underdog story, according to Jessica Nowlin, whose husband manages the county’s machine-pitch team.
“Yes, this is the biggest sporting event of the year in our little town,” Nowlin said. “We’re a small community with only four teams in our league. Our team has come a long way.”
Because of the youth of the players, ages 8 and 9, there is no telling what will happen on the field. In the early innings, a South Carolina player made a spectacular running catch in the outfield.
“That’s the thing about this age group — anything routine is not routine,” said Donnie Kaminer, who has directed the South Carolina Dixie Youth program for 35 years. “It never gets old.”
Dixie Youth’s mission includes sportsmanship, and it was on display. Every team member must play at least one inning and there is no limit to substitutions. By mid-day, no umpire had been heckled.
When a player substitution is made, it is telephoned from the dugout to the tower, where the score books are kept and announcements are made for all four fields individually.
“I helped CableComm put in several thousand feet of cable,” said Charles Taylor. “There are phones and internet in every dugout, and video streaming too.”
A company called JockJive Sports live streamed four games at once from behind home plate. Youth baseball has come a long way and so has Lumberton, said Mayor Bruce Davis, who was watching from the tower.
Davis was proud of the facility and the job the Lumberton Youth Baseball Association has done to attract and deliver the World Series.
“This is just the beginning,” Davis said. “To think that Lumberton has a facility this outstanding.”
Lumberton has purchased 50 more acres at the Pennington Athletic Complex for soccer fields, Davis said.
“We are so proud of this facility and this event,” he said. “We have 24 teams this weekend and 36 teams coming next weekend.”
The event continues until Aug. 9. More than 700 players will compete, bringing about 1,500 people to the community. One expert said the effect on the local economy could be as much as $3 million.