Hendricks Avenue Baseball League Celebrates 75 Years

Luke Eliopulos and Will Mitchell
Luke Eliopulos and Will Mitchell

One of Jacksonville’s most iconic neighborhood baseball leagues will celebrate its 75th anniversary when opening season begins Saturday, Feb. 27.

Hendricks Avenue Baseball League was founded by Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church – which is also celebrating its 75th anniversary this year – when it built the athletic fields next to its church in 1946. For generations, children from San Marco and adjacent neighborhoods have grown up playing together at the athletic complex which is located at 4001 Hendricks Avenue. The place is special because it allows the children and youth of the San Marco community to “play baseball in an atmosphere that is encouraging and supportive of all players and where the highest ideals of sportsmanship are fostered and upheld,” said Jon Yost, commissioner of baseball for Hendricks Avenue Baseball. “That vision is just as true today as when the baseball grounds were first opened. Now, in our 75th year, it is not uncommon for a parent or even a grandparent who grew up playing ball at Hendricks Avenue to be seen at the fields coaching his own son or daughter or cheering on a grandchild’s team.”

Such is the case of At-large City Councilman Matt Carlucci, a San Marco resident who grew up playing Pop Warner football on the fields as a child in the 1960s and watched his sons also play on the fields.

“What is wonderful about HAB is the diversity of HAB,” said Carlucci. “It’s the diversity of the children playing baseball amongst the parents and amongst the coaches. It’s a melting pot of a demographic of Jacksonville that gathers over at HAB. I think what it means to the community and the signal that it sends out is that there are places you can go and compete that are cutthroat, but this place provides a genuine sense of community, and it is beloved by so many, including me.”

Part of the diversity comes in the feeling of gender equality that has been fostered at the ballfields for 60 years. When Karen Buskirk signed up to play at HAB in 1960, she became the first girl to ever play Little League in Jacksonville.

“There was no softball at the time. I was probably 11 or 12,” she recalled. I was the only girl in Duval County to play. The leagues were only boys. I had my hair cut short, and I wore a hat so they really didn’t know I was a girl. I played right field, and I was just as mean as the boys, so they kept me on the team because I was a good player. I grew up on Peachtree Circle North, not very far from there and the church had a great youth program. They had a gym and Mickey King was the athletic director that stood out when I went up there. I played everything. I would go there when I got out of elementary school. We would race up there and the kids would come from the neighborhood and we would play basketball – all kind of sports. They had a trampoline, and baseball, all kind of different activities. HAB has been in the community as a plus for many, many years,” she said.

Over the years, young athletes have used the complex to play football, basketball, and baseball. The baseball fields were rebuilt in 2000, when a third field was added, said Yost. The HAB logo was redesigned in 2015 as a five-sided crest to pay homage to Jacksonville’s rich military history, with each side representing a neighborhood serviced by the park – the Southbank, St. Nicholas, San Marco, Lakewood, and San Jose, according to the league’s website. “We also wanted to tie together our nearly 70-year history with our future. Our crest harkens back to an era when we started, but our lettering has a modern and sleek look. Finally, the seven pillars symbolize two ideas: Jacksonville’s seven major bridges bringing together our community, and each pillar supports a core trait that guides our league – trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, teamwork, and healthy competition,” according to the website.

The year 2015 also marked the return of the original league colors of green and yellow, which were used from 1947 to 2013, after which for two years, orange and blue became the standard colors of the park. In 2016, a new team nickname and logo was introduced – the Hendricks Avenue Angels, which represent the park’s program through its advanced baseball and all-star teams. “The logo stems from the ideas laid out in the park philosophy,” according to the website. “The font was narrowed and shaped to impress a forward and modern baseball theory that applies to how we play.”

Registration for the 2021 spring season is currently open. Players are divided into five divisions by age; T-Ball for 4-to-6 year olds; Instructional (pitching machine) for 7-and-8 year olds; Minors (kid pitch) for 9-and-10 year olds; Majors for 11-and-12 year olds; and Juniors for 13-to-15 year olds.  Two seasons are played every year, one in the spring and one in the fall.  All players, regardless of experience or ability, are welcome to play, and advanced programs are available for players interested in higher levels of play and participating in baseball tournaments.  No family is ever be turned away due to inability to pay the registration fee.

For many years, the league typically has 300 players signed up from all over the city, said Yost, noting  that  HAB baseball  is woven into the fabric of San Marco. “We do play the way baseball should be played, but there is nothing really nostalgic about it. We play competitive baseball and compete against teams around the city. Keeping up with the times is an important part of what we do.”

For more information, to volunteer, or to contribute financially or  in  other  ways,  please  check  the  website (hendricksbaseball.org,) or reach out via email: [email protected].

By Marcia Hodgson
Resident Community News

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