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  • Last modified 114 days ago (June 4, 2020)

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New season, new team for boys baseball

Staff writer

Challenges breed adaptation and evolution.

For several youth baseball players, that may include joining a new team as social distancing regulations are lifted.

It will replace the Marion recreation team for ages 13 to 15, which coach Jerry Mendoza had coached. All rec coaches are volunteers, but Mendoza was dismissed from the program.

Rec director Margot Yates declined to comment on the dismissal. Marion rec will not field a team for 13-to-15-year-olds this summer but other programs will continue.

But team member parent Karen Williams said the new team provided a new opportunity, with players and parents showing active support.

“He has a lot to offer as far as educating the boys and helping them further develop their skills,” she said. “And that’s what they work on out there.”

Marion County Spikes includes mainly Marion players, but Mendoza said it’s a county team, with a few players participating from Hillsboro, Peabody-Burns, and Centre districts.

“We want to make steps to continue the tradition of having strong baseball players in the community,” he said.

The team’s name serves a dual purpose, inspired by the area’s historical ties to railroads and a religious reference to the nails of a cross, Mendoza said.

“Faith is a strong pillar in the team’s foundation,” he said.

Even the teams colors are meant to have a religious significance, not a specific reference to Marion’s school colors. The team’s blue represents bruises sustained by Jesus red represents his blood, while white signifies the purity that follows in being reborn a Christian, Mendoza said.

One aspect outfielder Cooper Bailey looks forward to is having increased freedom to choose opponents.

“It’s not only teams in the county or just outside the county,” he said. “It’ll be fun going to Wichita and playing teams we’ve never played before.”

The team will be sanctioned under United States Specialty Sports Association, which includes sports ranging from softball and basketball to karate and flag football.

Participating in USSSA affords a larger field of teams to compete against, even allowing the team to look outside Kansas for games, Mendoza said.

“Not only will it give them competition they haven’t seen before; it might open another avenue for them to get scholarships to go to college,” he said.

Some tournaments for older age brackets now offer scholarships to a weekend’s top performers, he said.

“Those are just starting,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll get more popular as we go on, so we can have some of our kids compete in that.”

Mendoza has first-hand experience with the benefits athletics can provide for a person’s education. As a college student it was thanks to baseball that Mendoza was able to attend Newman University on scholarship before transferring to Wichita State University to finish his degree.

“Baseball gave me the opportunity to succeed and get an education,” he said. “That’s ultimately the prize we’re looking at, for these kids to have that opportunity.”

While Mendoza is working with one team for now, he wants to evolve the initiative into a full-fledged camp, where baseball and softball players from 8 to 18 can hone their skills with a focus on their faith.

If that plan comes to fruition, he anticipates using the service of older players from high school or college teams to fill out the coaching ranks.

“If our program takes off like we want to see it, we’re going to have several teams travel in one summer,” he said. “I can only dedicate my abilities to one team. It’s not fair to the kids.”

While it’s a new team, Cooper said, the players still have an advantage because they know one another well.

“Over this whole quarantine thing, we all hung out outside,” he said. “We’re all friends with each other so we have chemistry when we play.”

Having Mendoza start his camp as social distancing regulations are being lifted is perfect timing for those involved, Williams said.

“It’s summer,” she said. “Of all the sports in the world, baseball is where you have to stand away from someone to throw the ball.”

Mendoza said he would like the new team to operate similar to Amateur Athletic Union sports, where athletes often compete in school and club sports.

Since the team and prospective camps are non-profits Mendoza said he won’t be charging for either. However, donations to help fund the team can be sent to ballin@bottomofninth.com.

Mendoza uses several competition-based drills, which Cooper said are helpful.

Many of the players are young for the age-group, which provides extra motivation for Cooper, age 14.

“It’s 15 and under, and a majority of our team is 14 years old, so we’ll be playing bigger kids mostly,” he said.

Last modified June 4, 2020

 

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