It’s Spring – and time to play ball

Published 3:56 pm Saturday, March 16, 2024

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A dear friend of mine, Downtown Karla Brown, has a saying “Nothing Matches Natchez.” This time of year, I feel inclined to add a tagline to her beloved slogan, “Nothing Matches Natchez… In the Springtime!”

I think I probably speak for everyone in saying the spring weather is a most welcome sight. With azaleas blooming and hummingbirds returning, a stroll down any of our beautiful, crepe myrtle-lined streets, brings with it a profound sense of renewal. And with the recent time change, we can now have extra time to spruce up after the darker winter days and once again resume our time-honored outdoor traditions and pastimes.

Certainly, one of our country’s greatest pastimes is baseball. When I became your mayor, I was disappointed to see the condition of the city’s three baseballs located at Duncan Park. They clearly had been in a state of decline for many years. I hate to think of just what their condition would have been were it not for the efforts of a few dedicated volunteers who, with very limited resources and little to no support from the city, did their best to keep the fields going.

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We immediately addressed this problem in Phase One of our recreational renewal program. Now I am pleased to report that the fields have been resodded, new red dirt has been placed in our infields, and windscreens, fence toppers, and foul poles have been installed. The fields are once again ready for play!

I cannot say enough for the leadership of Alderwoman Valencia Hall, Chairwoman of our city’s Recreation Renewal Committee, who has never wavered in her commitment to see our parks and playgrounds restored. I must also thank those alderpersons who have also been steadfast in their support. We now have new playground equipment at all of our parks, renovated restrooms, additional tennis courts, a renovated North Natchez Youth Center, renovations underway at the Duncan Park Golf Clubhouse, and renovations about to begin at the Duncan Park Pavilion and public restrooms.

Credit must also be given to our Parks and Recreation Director Ryan Porter and his staff. Mr. Porter has personally put in many hours, from early morning to late evening, to make sure the fields are ready for play this year. And with support from a small but dedicated staff, the first season of baseball brought to you by Natchez Youth Sports is greatly exceeding expectations – and the first pitch hasn’t even been thrown!

We are excited to announce that 311 Natchez youth, volunteers and sponsors have registered to play ball! It’s been many years since we’ve seen anything like this. Included in this number are 63 aspiring small athletes making up 6 “wee ball” teams, 97 five and six year olds making up 8 “tee ball” teams, 68 seven and eight year olds making up 6 younger youth baseball teams, and 55 nine and ten year olds rounding up the remaining 5 older youth baseball teams.

We are celebrating an enormous community buy-in as well! 19 sponsors have committed $6,000 in private funding, with commitments expected to double by the beginning of the season. In addition, 35 coaches have signed up to help along with four umpires. (And our Parks and Recreation Department still has room for more umpires).

In a recent meeting with coaches, Mr. Porter shared these words, and I must share them here. “The great Coach Bear Bryant once said that success is where preparation and opportunity meet. The City of Natchez and the Parks and Recreation Department have been working tirelessly to prepare the next generation for success. Now, it is up to us to seize the opportunity that lies ahead. As a community, we have the chance to revive youth sports in Natchez, but more importantly, we have the opportunity to make a positive impact. This is a chance to break down barriers and come together regardless of politics, socio-economic status, or race. We can teach our future leaders the value of teamwork, both on and off the field.”

I can think of no better words to share. Time to play ball Natchez! Because Natchez Deserves More!

Dan M. Gibson is mayor of Natchez.