Hinton still makes the calls

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 3, 2001

The elevator creaks and groans as it slowly lifts Gary Hinton toward the pressbox.

&uot;It’s slow,&uot; he calls from the elevator shaft.

But it works.

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And in less than two minutes, Hinton is wheeling out of the elevator and into the pressbox that he calls home.

With his new puppy, Lady, resting comfortably in his lap, Hinton glides into his spot behind the announcer’s microphone in the pressbox.

Hinton, president of the Dixie Youth league in Ferriday, La., has been a wheelchair since a motorcycle accident in 1995. He’s been involved with Dixie Youth for 20 years, serving on the board for nearly 10 years and calling games since 1996.

&uot;That year, two people packed me up and down the steps – me and the wheelchair both,&uot; he said. &uot;After that I said, ‘no, we’re not going to do that anymore.’&uot;

And with that, the Ferriday league organizers took a critical step toward becoming what Hinton believes may be the only completely wheelchair-accessible ballpark in the Dixie Youth ranks.

The accessibility started with the dugouts. &uot;A good many years ago, they had a tournament here and the guy coaching one of the teams was in a wheelchair and he couldn’t get in our dugouts,&uot; Hinton said. &uot;So the next year, George Perry (longtime president of the league) had the dugouts widened.&uot;

Then, in 1996, the elevator and lift were added to the pressbox, giving Hinton access to call the games. Last year, the concession stand below the pressbox was remodeled, making it wheelchair-accessible.

&uot;Now, I think we’re the only ones in Dixie Youth who are completely wheelchair-accessible,&uot; Hinton said Saturday.

For Hinton, the elevator, the ramps and the widened doors give him access to much more than simply a pressbox – they are an entryway into a sport and his passion.

The 38-year-old business owner played Dixie Youth ball on these same fields as a child. &uot;I started playing at age nine,&uot; he said. &uot;I was a bench-warmer most of the time.&uot;

Twenty years ago, when his son Steve turned 5, Hinton began coaching at those same fields. As his son grew out of the baseball league, Hinton became active on the board of directors with men like George Perry and Albert Chapman, volunteers who’ve virtually run the Ferriday Dixie Youth program for more than 45 years.

&uot;They were out here when I was playing,&uot; Hinton said. &uot;They’re really the ones who kept it going.&uot;

Now, in his first year as president, Hinton is doing his part to keep the league progressive and growing. Ferriday’s Dixie Youth league boasts its own Web site – provided through the national Dixie Youth foundation – for coaches, fans and players to access stats, schedules and game summaries.

&uot;We’re the only ones in the region who use it,&uot; said Hinton, who started taking advantage of the Web site last year.

And, thanks to a donated computer and Hinton’s interest in technology, the league benefits from computerized statistics that could be the envy of many a college program. &uot;I started using the computer to keep the score last year,&uot; Hinton said. &uot;I thought I’d try it for a couple of weeks, but once the coaches got wind of all that it would do, they were begging me to keep up with it.&uot;

The program provides game-by-game recaps as well as detailed statistics for both individual games and the season. For instance, Hinton can provide a coach with an analysis of a team’s pitchers that includes total number of pitches thrown; number of balls; number of strikes; even a percentage of strikes thrown on the first pitch – all at the push of a button.

&uot;The coaches all come up here after the games looking for the stats,&uot; Hinton said.

During the season, which runs April through July, Hinton spends five nights a week at the ballpark, calling games from about 6 to 9:45 p.m., then collating statistics and coordinating oversight of the volunteers who run the league. After regular season play is finished, he and Perry will travel with the All Star teams on the tournament circuit. Although it’s been several years since the Ferriday league has produced a state champion All Star team, Hinton holds on to the hope that one day he’ll see a Ferriday player on the college fields or in the major leagues.

&uot;Down the road, I could hear about one of the players and say, ‘yea, I called his name every time he crossed the plate.’&uot;