Even with everything that has gone on this spring, some local baseball remains a possibility.
After the Arkansas Department of Health loosened its restrictions on athletic activities, efforts are underway to get a local team on the field.
Veteran Dixie Baseball coach Jeff Woods is trying to find opponents for the Shelter Insurance Dixie Pre-Majors, a team of players from 15-17 years old. Woods, who has either played or coached every season (with one exception) since he was four years old, had no plans to coach a summer team.
“Only a week ago, we didn’t know they were going to open up baseball in the state,” Woods said. “Then I got some calls from parents. I didn’t want to do it. I’ve won five state titles. I was done. I was happy.
“There was really no high school season. Some of these kids are baseball kids. They may play other sports, but baseball is their first choice. For three months they worked their tails off to be able to compete in high school, then they got in six games. These kids love to play. I want to give them the chance.”
This is a new age group for Woods who has always coached 13-14 year olds. One good thing about the change is that he coached several of the players on this team when they were younger.
“A lot of these players won state as 13 year olds. We went to the World Series. It’s a fun trip,” said Woods.
The older age group is more commonly associated with American Legion baseball. In Arkansas the Legion ball season was completely cancelled.
“The schedule is work in progress. Some American Legion teams have formed and are playing in Texas and Oklahoma. I’m trying to get games with legion teams out of Texarkana. There’s also a team in Mena,” the coach said. “It’s a battle. I’ve got a list of coaches I’m trying to contact.”
The team has 11 players at this time: Devin Boyles, Joseph Allen, Cooper Young, Gage Woods, Easton Leonard, Blake Pickett, Carson McKiever, Landon Tollett, Will Pope, Stone Williams and Caleb Moffet. “They are all really good baseball players,” the coach said.
Woods will have help coaching. New De Queen baseball coach Ethan Crocker will assist when he can work around football practice. “Heath Leonard said he’ll help as long as he can,” Woods said.
He pointed out that everything is not back to normal as far as baseball is concerned. Spectators will have to bring their own chairs. Bleacher seating is not allowed. Coaches and spectators will have to wear face coverings. For the players, six feet of distancing will be required in the dugout. Shared equipment will have to be disinfected after each use. “This means we’ll disinfect bats between batters,” Woods noted. “It’s going to be quite challenging.”
Getting to this stage has not been easy. “It’s been difficult. For so long we had no idea what the guidelines would be,” he said. “Usually at his time of the year high school baseball’s just finishing up. Everything has changed.
“I just started Monday, trying to put the team together. I want to get some practice games in and play Dixie ball. Our goal is to go to the state tournament in Dixie. If we win that one, then we go to World Series in Guntersville, Ala.”
However he pointed out that —especially this year — the win-lose record is not that important. “It’s not about winning. This is about getting games in. These kids need to play.”