Jim Harris: Youth Baseball Players Dream of Titles; NFL Players Descend on Pine Bluff

by Jim Harris  on Friday, Jul. 6, 2012 7:05 am  

This story is from the archives of ArkansasSports360.com.

The ridiculous triple-digit heat has not emptied the youth ballparks around Arkansas — not by a longshot. Rather, youth baseball soldiers on, the youngsters just needing the occasional water break as they perfect their craft at the urging of their heavily sweating elders.

The past two weekends, we watched baseball in the breezy, dusty confines of the Lonoke baseball complex off U.S. Highway 70 east of town. You know it’s hot and dry when the bothersome mosquitoes camping in a next-door rice field dramatically fall in number, as they did from one week to the next.

From Lonoke to Lake Village and points all around the state, teams from ages 11 years old and below have withstood the heat while competing for state championships and the right to continue on with their baseball seasons on the regional level, some still dreaming of making a World Series some where.

Beginning Friday (July 6), the Cal Ripken Baseball 12-year-old state tournament will be staged at the Bill and Skeeter Dickey Complex — the home of the Little Rock Junior Deputy organization — off Cantrell Road.

Junior Deputy will be just getting started when the state tournament concludes. Beginning July 19, the Little Rock ballpark will play host to the 12-and-under Cal Ripken Southwest Regional, drawing state champions from Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Mississippi for a six-day event. The tournament's first day is dedicated to an evening banquet with all the participants. Tournament action begins on July 20. Little Rock will be providing a host team, no matter how the state tournament goes for JD's representative this weekend.

This marks the first time Junior Deputy has played host to a regional since 1999.

Also, the Junior Deputy 11/70 (11-year-olds playing on 70-foot basepaths) All-Star team won its state tournament in Jacksonville and moves on to regional play in Gulfport, Miss., starting July 20. The team has already had a nice traveling summer, playing in a tournament in Omaha, Neb., at the same time the College World Series was starting there. The boys took in some of the CWS, we're told.

Meanwhile, the Babe Ruth Baseball portion of the Dickey ballpark complex has two new additions of impressive memorabilia: major league baseball jerseys worn by two graduates of the Junior Deputy Babe Ruth program. Gerald Hannahs recently donated two of his Los Angeles Dodgers jerseys worn in 1978 and '79 to the ball park. Current Detroit Tiger Drew Smyly is sending one of his jerseys to add to the display. Smyly was coached by Babe Ruth League co-commissioner Charlie McGrew.

Plans are to have the jerseys encased and on display in the Babe Ruth score room.

But, back to the weekend youth tournaments: The motto on Lonoke's city sign as visitors enter the town on Highway 31 is, "Life as it should be." In a lot of ways, some sentimental for me, they've got it right. If you really want that feel of small-town baseball, with the usual hot, southerly breeze blowing in across the Grand Prairie and with rice and bean fields as far as the eye can see, the 10-year-old Cal Ripken state tournament is being staged at the aforementioned Lonoke fields all weekend. Remember, it's too hot now even for mosquitoes, but bring the spray anyway.

FOOTBALL PROS IN PINE BLUFF: NFL players David Johnson, a tight end for the Pittsburgh Steelers and former Arkansas State and Pine Bluff star, and Raymond Webber, a receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers via UAPB, will be on hand Saturday, July 7, for the second Life and Fundamentals of Football youth camp at the Pine Bluff High School indoor facility on Beech Street across from Jordan Stadium.

Johnson and Webber will be joined by a host of other football-playing friends as they instruct kids ages 4 to 12 years old. New additions this week to the teaching crew are Cedric Thornton of the Philadelphia Eagles and Frank Okam, the former Texas Longhorn defensive lineman now with Tampa Bay.

While the boys are learning football, the girls ages 4-12 can participate in the Life and Fundamentals of Cheerleading Camp. Hosts for the cheer camp are Chrystal Roberson, a former Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader; Carmen Blunt, former cheerleader at Hampton University; Brittany Green, a former cheerleader at Southern University, and the current Pine Bluff High cheerleading squad.

Spots for both camps are still available at $15. The camps begin at 8 a.m. and run until noon, followed by lunch (included in the fee). For more information, call (877) 601-0570 or visit bluntsports2m.com



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