Biggest-ever opener for youth league

SAN MARCOS — Thousands of children, parents and volunteers crowded into Mission Sports Park in San Marcos on Feb. 27 for the largest ever Youth Baseball Spring Season Celebration.
They had a lot to celebrate. The city’s league is the fastest growing, largest Protect Our Nation’s Youth, or P.O.N.Y., league in Southern California. Nearly 100 teams with more than 1,000 players took a bow along with dozens of volunteer coaches. Interspersed with the presentation ceremonies, several hundred players took part in a Hit-a-thon, which raised $8,000 for field repairs in maintenance.
Fundraising angels have given Mission Sports Park a striking facelift.
Five electronic, wireless scoreboards have replaced the old plywood affairs thanks to donations totaling $25,000. Hunter Industries paid for four of the signs. Mike and Sheri Middleton purchased one after an unexpected bonus left the family with money to give.
“We love the baseball team, we love the organization,” Sheri Middleton said. “We believe in giving back to the community so when he got that bonus, we wondered who we could help? We thought it would be cool to have a scoreboard named after us!”
Another difference game-watchers might notice this season is the lack of Major League Baseball branding. All of the teams are named after Major League teams, and until last year, each team had their patron namesake embroidered on their jerseys. The pro teams cracked down hard last year, fining the shirt maker $75,000 for copyright infringement. As a result, this year’s team shirts just say “San Marcos.”
“We can use the Major League Baseball hats because they’ve made that affordable,” Rene Flores, president of San Marcos Youth Baseball, said. “But on the uniforms, it’s not practical for a youth league to buy the MLB licensed uniforms.” The league has gotten creative, designing jerseys for both home and road games to keep the teams’ appearance distinctive and interesting.
Most of the players parading around the field were of the small variety. In fact, more than half of the league’s 1,030 child athletes are in the two youngest divisions, ranging from 4 to 8 years old. There is a steep drop-off in the size of the upper divisions.
“Kids lose interest as they’re growing up, get involved in other sports and other activities,” Shockley said. “This is an experimental stage.” As children go into high school, they tend to go into school rather than community sports, he said.
The children aren’t the only neophytes. Many of the coaches are first-timers as well, drawn into coaching both for love of the sport and to spend extra quality time with their sons. They won’t stay green for long, though, especially the ones who stay long enough to see a second or third child join the league.
Rookie or veteran, the San Marcos Youth Baseball teams will play dozens of games each this season. More information about scheduling and about the league in general can be found at www.sanmarcosyouthbaseball.com or by calling (760) 744-1756.

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