July 6, 2011 9:18:00 AM
It''s nearly time.
After months of planning, cleaning, primping, and organizing, Roger Short and the Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority are ready to roll out the welcome mat to all of the players, parents, relatives, and fans who will invade Propst Park for four Dizzy Dean slow-pitch softball age-group tournaments and the 10-and-under South state baseball tournament.
Action kicks off at 4 p.m. Thursday with three games in the 15-team Dizzy Dean baseball tournament. Games will run through Tuesday (or Wednesday if an if-necessary game is needed) as teams compete to earn a shot to advance to the next round of action July 22 in Southaven.
On Friday, slow-pitch softball tournament action begins in 10-and-under, 12-U, 14-U, 16-U, and 18-U featuring teams from throughout the state. Those squads will compete to advance to their age group''s national tournament in Watertown, S.D.
For Short, who also is an at-large player representative for the state of Mississippi and the Southwest Region 6 director in the Amateur Softball Association of America, the national governing body of the sport, it is a great chance for Columbus to showcase its fields and facilities and for sports fans to come out and watch plenty of fun and exciting games.
"I look at it as a couple of opportunities," Short said. "One is the economic impact. I always look at that what we can do for the city when we''re given that opportunity. Of course we want the people to appreciate the facilities and come back.
"As far as our playing surfaces, I think they''re as good as anybody. We may not have beautiful dugouts, but we get nothing but compliments from people about our playing surfaces (for softball), and it is the same with the baseball playing surfaces."
Last weekend, Propst Park played host to the 8-and-under Dizzy Dean coach-pitch North state tournament. Kosciusko beat Caledonia to win the championship.
Short said the slow-pitch softball tournaments fit well with the pocket of interest that remains for the sport in this area. Teams from Columbus, Caledonia, and Amory will compete this weekend. He said many of those squads are All-Star teams taken from teams in recreational leagues.
"We''ll give them a good show," Short said. "We will bring them in Friday night and come back Saturday morning and crown four age-group champions."
Combined with last week''s tournament action, Short said there are 41 teams from the state of Mississippi competing in slow-pitch softball action. He said that number is about the same as last year, even though he said most trends are going toward fast-pitch competition.
Short said the CLRA attempted to follow that pattern a few years ago when it switched it program offerings to fast-pitch softball. As a result, Short said the enrollment figures dwindled, which forced the CLRA to switch back to slow-pitch offerings. When it did, the enrollment numbers grew.
"It is supposed to be recreational, and these kids did not enjoy playing fast pitch, so we went back to slow pitch," Short said. "Even though the numbers in youth slow pitch are down, those numbers are still somewhat consistent."
Short said softball players want to have opportunities to play the game and some prefer playing the slow-pitch game, just as some people prefer to play disc golf rather than golf.
The CLRA also offers a fast-pitch league for high school teams in the offseason. This year, it featured teams from New Hope High School, West Point, Caledonia, Lamar County, Pickens Academy, Hatley, and South Lamar.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.