Baseball leagues bring out the best in players

Baseball leagues bring out the best in players
San Jose Athletic Association’s 2013 District Champs

Focus is on attitude, not amenities

In baseball it may be one, two, three strikes you’re out, but at neighborhood ballparks, kids are all in for the fun and friendship that makes the experience a true winner.
Children living in the neighborhoods of San Marco, St. Nicholas and San Jose mark the arrival of spring with more than chocolate bunnies. There are also baseballs, bats and Babe Ruth organizations such as San Jose Athletic Association and Hendricks Avenue Baptist League, that are just as synonymous with the season.

San Jose Athletic Association’s 2013 District Champs

San Jose Athletic Association’s 2013 District Champs

Each organization boasts around 300 players eager to learn the fundamentals of the game – with the key word being fun.

Keith Edwards, a San Jose resident and president of San Jose Athletic Association, wants to do whatever it takes to have a good experience for the kids. “We love seeing the smiles on the field and the cheering parents,” he said.

Christina Petre is one of the cheering parents at San Jose. Petre’s son Will has played in the league since t-ball. “We love San Jose! During the past six years Will has learned a great deal from his teammates and coaches, while making some lasting friendships.”

San Jose, which has operated in the City of Jacksonville’s Baker-Skinner Park on Powers Avenue since 1996, has two t-ball and four baseball fields, but their focus is not on the amenities, but the right attitude. San Jose tries to keep the atmosphere from being hyper-competitive, ensuring the kids, who range in age from four to 15 years, have a level playing field by striving for parity on the teams.

“We don’t want baseball-crazy people out there,” Edwards explained. “We try to set the right culture by not stacking teams. You can fall into the trap of wanting a victory, and while we have a strong desire to win it’s more important that the kids learn to love the game, learn team work and how to win and lose with grace.”

San Jose Athletic Association’s 2013 District Champs Will_Petre: Will Petre plays in the San Jose Athletic Association

San Jose Athletic Association’s 2013 District Champs
Will_Petre: Will Petre plays in the San Jose Athletic Association

The emphasis on teamwork is one of the things Amy Stapleton, a Granada resident, likes best about baseball at Hendricks. Her son, Flynn, has played fall and spring seasons since kindergarten and is now in 5th grade. She says no matter how competitive a game is it doesn’t interfere with friendships formed at the park.

“During a game, the competition is fierce, but when the game is over everyone is still friends, no matter which side you were cheering for,” Stapleton explained. “Flynn has played with kids from just about every school in the area and will take those friendships with him as he gets older.”

Hendricks, which has one t-ball and two baseball fields, is tucked behind Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church.  According to Tom Morris, a San Marco resident and former commissioner of the league, “We are a rare private league in that it is not city-owned property, but rather owned by the church and leased to the baseball league.”

What may be even more unique at Hendricks is that the park, which began “about 65 years ago,” has some coaches who played there when they were growing up. “The baseball league is a wonderful way to meet and connect with other people in this area,” explained Morris. “My son played in all divisions of the league from age five to 15…I’ve stayed involved because I like seeing the kids and families have fun.”

The organization has become so popular that they are in the middle of a capital campaign to raise money to build two more fields on land already purchased by Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church, ensuring the likelihood that some of the players from this generation will be coaching their children at the beloved park someday as well.

While the emphasis is on recreational baseball at Hendricks and San Jose, both leagues have advanced ball teams, which travel locally to compete with other parks.
Still, a sign that hangs prominently at San Jose’s park, titled the “Greatest Ball Player” reminds parents and coaches to keep the emphasis on the children not the win.

Flynn Stapleton at bat during a game at the Hendricks Avenue Baptist ball field

Flynn Stapleton at bat during a game at the Hendricks Avenue Baptist ball field

“Along this path pass the greatest baseball players you will ever know – your children,” it reads. “Be with them, encourage them, help them be as good as they can be, but most of all at the end of the day, win or lose, tell them you love them for what they are, the most precious gift God will ever give you.”
By Lara Patangan
Resident Community News

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