LUMBERTON — The city of Lumberton and the Lumberton Youth Baseball Association are in the on-deck circle now as the Dixie Youth World Series comes to Ray Pennington Athletic Complex in less than three weeks.
But before the more than 700 baseball players and their families come to town from July 27 to Aug. 9, there is still work left to be done at the facility and event planning wise.
“Right now, we’re still working on some of our logistics related to the activities that will be leading up to the playing of the games and the outside baseball things we have to do,” LYBA Secretary Bruce Mullis said. “The city has done a phenomenal job helping with the facilities, but there are still some things that we have to get done that the city is working hard on.”
The Dixie Youth World Series brings the state champions from 11 states for five divisions ranging from Coach and Machine Pitch for 7- and 8-year-olds, to three baseball divisions with players from 9 to 12 years old. Along with the state champions, Lumberton has an automatic qualifier in each of the five tournaments.
The Coach and Machine Pitch tournaments will run from July 27 to 31, and the AAA, Majors and “O”Zone tournaments run from Aug. 3 to 9.
With the help from the city of Lumberton and the LYBA, work at the facility has been progressing in recent months with sod being laid on several of the infields, and the required sixth field being built from the ground up in the last month and a half.
Those are the physical changes being made, but Mullis, LYBA President Tim Locklear and the rest of the LYBA board are making sure that the behind the scenes work like booking food vendors, scheduling locations for church services and the national Dixie Youth board meeting and planning the schedule and logistics of the opening ceremonies is being done.
Opening ceremonies will be help for the Coach and Machine Pitch World Series on July 27, and the AAA, Majors and “O” Zone baseball World Series on Aug. 3, and the LYBA is making sure to unroll the red carpet to recognize all 60 teams that will compete in the World Series.
“One of the things the kids will see is the pageantry of the World Series being dressed up in their state uniforms and being paraded out on the field during the opening ceremony,” Locklear said. “We are going to call out their names and have guest speakers for them. Then they are going to come out here and represent their team.”
Although preparations started when Lumberton’s host bid was approved in August 2016, it was another event two months later that put a halt on the steps being made to get ready for the event.
“Getting the sixth field build was the biggest obvious challenge, but there was Hurricane Matthew,” Mullis said. “We went in August of 2016 to place and earn our bid and Oct. 8, 2016 was Hurricane Matthew. Naturally we were pushed aside and rightfully so because our community was devastated.
“We lost a whole year of doing things that needed to be done that could’ve easily been completed.”
The hurricane, whose effects are still being felt in the city almost two years later, put a big question mark on if the World Series would come to fruition.
“There was a period of time where we thought that we just can’t do it,” Locklear said. “ But there was enough folks that got behind us and told us that Lumberton needs this.”
Mullis said the Lumberton Visitors Bureau knew what could come to the local economy from an event of this size, and it was a driving force in helping with the work leading up the World Series.
This event is the first of its kind to come to the Ray Pennington Athletic Complex, but the LYBA has worked with smaller district and state tournaments through Dixie Youth to prepare it for what it is about to embark on. And done so with limited facilities.
“The LYBA has hosted a number of district and state tournaments at Bill Sapp (Recreation Center) with only two fields. Out here, the very first tournament held was Dixie Softball state tournament,” Mullis said.
Most recently, the West Robeson Baseball Association reached out to Lumberton to host the District 9 Coach Pitch tournament. Locklear saw a small version of what to expect on some of the busier days of the World Series from that district tourney.
“We had all five fields going all day Saturday. It kind of gave us the feel of how the World Series is going to look,” Locklear said.
For the two weeks the tournament lasts, there is still need for volunteers with jobs ranging from working in hospitality tents to working as public address announcers during the games. But there is also a need for those to give hospitality to the some 55 teams traveling in from out of town to compete.
“We need way more volunteers,” Locklear said. “We need host families. Those families will host a team and tell them about Lumberton. If they need to know where the hospital is, where to wash their clothes, where’s the best place to eat and those types of things.
“In my opinion, we can’t find too many volunteers.”
For more information about being a volunteer, along with sponsorships and vendor applications, go to the LYBA website at LYBABaseball.com.
This will be the fourth time in the history of Dixie Youth that the baseball World Series will come to the Tar Heel State, with Hope Mills, Leland and Carthage being the previous three hosts. Now with the recent upgrades in facilities, and barring how the two weeks go, the LYBA would like to see it make a return in the future.
“We’re just proud that we will get to host it and have a facility that is able to host it,” Locklear said. “We want them to come back.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected]com. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.