July 8, 2013 11:17:00 AM
Patience is an essential ingredient to baseball and softball enlightenment.
It also helps to have a healthy does of patience when you're dealing with Mother Nature and her ability to alter the schedule for a tournament.
Despite a deluge Friday that dropped more than two inches of rain in Columbus, Propst Park looked none the worse for wear Saturday morning as action kicked off in the Amateur Softball Association 8-and-under Coach-Pitch tournament, the Dizzy Dean 7-year-old Coach-Pitch South State tournament, and the Dizzy Dean 11- to 12-year-old South State tournament. Work by H&H Landscaping and Grassmasters kept all of the game fields at Propst Park playable from 9 a.m. Saturday, when the softball tournament started, through 10:30 p.m. Sunday, when the Columbus Americans ended a day's worth of action with a 13-12 victory against Calhoun City.
Columbus Americans coach Ronnie Richardson has been around baseball long enough to see a rain delay or two, so he knows it's important to be patient when dealing with the rain, especially in a tournament setting. As it was, Richardson's Columbus team and Calhoun City had to wait more than two hours past their scheduled 5 p.m. start time to play their elimination game. Neither team seemed to mind, though, as both posted crooked numbers on the scoreboard in the first inning. What ensued was a back-and-forth affair that had more ups and downs than your favorite roller coaster. Through all of the momentum shifts, Richardson and coach Chad Altmyer remained positive and watched as Columbus rallied to take a 13-10 lead and then held on in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Richardson, who graduated from Columbus Lee High School in 1987 and was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the sixth round of the Major League Baseball draft, has turned the experience he gained as a professional into teaching tools. Through stops in the New York Penn League, in High-A ball in Lynchburg, Va., to the Florida State League, to Double-A ball in New Britain, Conn., to Triple-A baseball in Pawtucket, R.I., Richardson learned from some of the game's best coaches. He returned to Columbus in 1993 and continued to play semi-pro baseball. It wasn't until 2004 that he decided to get involved in coaching in Columbus' recreation leagues.
"I want to help these guys learn the game at a young age and improve their talent and ability to play ball at the next level," Richardson said. "I try to be studious in my preparation and try to teach these guys to play together and to do things the right way. I also try to let them know that guys in the big leagues, in the minor leagues, in college, in high school, and in junior high -- guys who have been playing longer than they have -- make mistakes."
Richardson imparts those lessons with a constant stream of encouragement. From calling pitches for his pitcher and catcher to exhorting hitters to stay relaxed and to be aggressive at the plate, Richardson knows he has to balance patience and competitiveness when working with young players. He said he approaches coaching the same way he did when he was a player and tries to instill a competitive fire in all of his players that drives them to go all out regardless of the score.
"You have to be true to yourself being and have to be willing to work hard at something and have the desire and the will to get better," Richardson said. "I also try to teach the kids how to compete. As long as they have a never-give-up attitude, an attitude that no matter the situation, whether they are up or down, that they're always going to go out and play hard, that is what I want them to do."
As much as that attitude was on display on all of the fields, it also was in action off the fields. The Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority staff of tournament director Billy Craig and Mike Lollar, Michael Bradley, Haley Tutor, Carl Keaton, Tony Stewart, and Efram Coleman worked hard to make sure all questions were answered and that visitors to Columbus enjoyed their stay. Pepsi and Walmart did their part, too, by donating water and Gatorade for staff members. None of it could have happened without the support of the Columbus Convention and Visitors Bureau, which helped provide funds to CLRA that allowed it to bid and to secure the tournaments.
CLRA Executive Director Roger Short also thanked Dizzy Dean and the ASA for allowing the city of Columbus to play host to the events. Although Mother Nature forced tournament officials to move the ASA tournament from the Red Bird fields, which have all-dirt infields, to the Propst Park fields, which have all-grass infields, Short said everyone changed gears and did their best to put on the best tournament possible.
"Everybody from the softball community, the parents, the fans, and the coaches and also the baseball fans and coaches were very complimentary about the way we managed to get the fields ready for them to play," Short said. "Anybody who saw those facilities on Friday evening, most of them came to us and said there is no way you're going to play Saturday morning. The truth is if we hadn't have grassed all of our facilities in baseball we wouldn't have been able to play. We probably wouldn't have played until Sunday."
That decision also required patience. Short praised CLRA board member Rusty Greene for suggesting the park change all of its youth baseball fields to all-grass infields. Short said the change took a few years to implement, but he said it proved beneficial because the fields weer able to handle all of the rain and withstand a packed few days of action. More baseball is scheduled today and Tuesday, when the tournament is scheduled to wrap up, as long as Mother Nature doesn't get involved again.
The 11- to 12-year-old tournament will be the next-to-the-last one of the season for CLRA. Propst Park will play host to the Class C, D, and E men's softball tournaments the weekend of July 19.
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In other scores from Sunday's action at the 11- to 12-year-old tournament, Houston beat West Point 14-4, Ackerman defeated Mathiston 17-10, Calhoun City beat Ripley 16-4, Starkville defeated Saltillo 19-18, and Houston beat Ackerman 17-0.
In the 10-and-under Dizzy Dean South State tournament, Grenada defeated Columbus 11-3 Sunday in Winona. The loss eliminated Columbus, which went 2-2 in the tournament. Zach Butler, Drew Brown, Jacob Wilson, Antwaan Roland, Will Teague, and Hays Lumsden led Columbus in hitting Sunday.
In the Dizzy Dean 7-year-old South State Coach-Pitch tournament, Grenada Youth defeated Calhoun City 14-10 to win the championship. Calhoun City won four games to get to the title game. It beat Saltillo 8-0, Greenwood 17-9, Columbus 21-13, and Caledonia 11-7.
In other games involving local teams, Starkville beat Ackerman 17-7, Columbus beat Starkville 15-7, and Grenada defeated Caledonia 17-7.
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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