WAXAHACHIE — Little more than a month away from Opening Day, Ellis County is gearing up for a new season of baseball.
And the beginning of the path to each division's championship tournament.
The Waxahachie Youth Baseball Association will officially open the gates of Optimist Fields — with the help of the Johnson Baseball Group — during its opening day ceremonies on March 25.
Optimist Fields manager Chim Curry said the youth leagues are where current and former Indians and Hawks and Lady Indians and Hawks like got their start.
"The majority of the seniors on the team began playing T-ball right over here on Volentine Field," Curry said with a smile after adjusting a pullover. "I even ran into a kid they nicknamed 'Grandma' when he played her at the baseball banquet. His dad told me they still call him that. Those are memories that make being a part of this worthwile. I can't always remember the names, but I remember the kids."
Gonzales, who is a freshman softball player at Austin College and was one of Waxahachie's leaders in hits, hitting percentage, on-base percentage and home runs last season, is one. Tyler Navarro, a power pitcher on an Indian team that made the 14-5A playoffs in 2016, is another.
"That's what's really exciting, knowing you saw these kids when they were this big and now they're up in high school playing with Coach (Tracy) Wood," WYBA President Eddie Gilbert said moving his hand from his waist to above his head as he spoke. "It exciting to see kids back on the field every year — especially the new ones. I love seeing the new ones get out there and getting started the right way. There's nothing like it."
Though a pillar of the communities sports fulcrum now, the WYBA didn't start that way. Thirty-five years and two baseball fields ago, the organization had only a handful of teams and divisions, less that 450 players and only one season.
According to Gilbert, times have changed mightily.
Gone are the days of single season youth baseball for Waxahachie's premier not-for-profit sports league. In their place are fall, spring, summer seasons and more than 2,500 eager registered boys and girls that play in the blastball, T-ball and 5U through 16U divisions.
"We had 850 boys and 200 girls sign up and that was just for the fall," he said. "We have three seasons, now. This spring, we should have between 200 and 300 kids playing 5U and 6U baseball."
The WYBA started 12-month baseball in 2011 and created a softball component in 2013.
Parents and players in Ellis County can register for the 2017 eight-game spring baseball season online at wybaoline.org or in person between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturday, between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday or 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Thursday.
The registration fees are $35 for blastball and T-ball players, $85 for 5U-8U and $105 for 9U.
The WYBA's Evaluation Day, scheduled hitting, fielding, and throwing drills to determine th skill level of each player so they can make teams as even as possible, will be held on February 23. The non-tryout Evaluation Day will culminate in a "draft" and rosters will be released a week later.
Coaches will contact players once rosters are finalized. Interested parties can contact Gilbert at firstname.lastname@example.org. Any person wanting to be an umpire during the season can contact Curry at email@example.com.
Though Opening Day gets the support of Wood and the Indians and is always full of surprise, Curry said this year's festivities will have an added — and surprise — twist.
"We're going to have as many teams here as possible," he said with a smile. "The Waxahachie High school band, a guest singer for the National Anthem, a special first-pitch ceremony by five players will also be here. We might have a surprise or two in there, too."
Marcus S. Marion can be reached for story idea submissions or concerns at (469) 517-1456. Follow him on Twitter at @MarcusMarionWNI.