UNION — A group of local five- and six-year-old baseball players made Union County history this year.
This was the first year in which Union County Dixie Youth Baseball included an age group for ages 5-6, and after a full season, a group of 12 players comprised the first-ever Union County Dixie Youth 5-6-year-old All-Star Team.
Those 12 players were Donald Boone, LJ Bates, Mason Greer, DJ Gregory, States Farr, AJ Shaw, Nolan Stines, TJ Salter, Nathan Weaver, Quan Jeter, Reid Sanders and Carson Petrie.
“These boys can look back and tell their kids and grandkids, ‘I was on the very first 5-6-year-old All-Star team in Union County,” said head coach Dean Gregory. “They will be the only ones who can say that.”
Gregory said that in years past, Union County Dixie Youth consisted of two groups — Dixie Youth and Dixie Boys — and the youngest age included was 8. The league was later broken down into two-year age groups, and two years ago, a 7- and 8-year-old machine pitch group was added. Gregory said he talked with Dixie Youth President Tommy Ford at the end of last year’s season about introducing a 5-6-year-old age group. Gregory said his son DJ turned five in time to play this year. Ford said other counties had 5-6-year-old age groups, and he would look into it.
“We thought we might get enough to sign up for three teams at the most, but we had five teams this year,” Gregory said. “I thought that was amazing for the first year. We could get five again next year — maybe more. The goal is to get all kids in Union County the chance to come out and play baseball.”
Gregory became the head coach of the All-Star team by having the best regular-season win-loss record. His team — Weaver Towing — went undefeated during the regular season and only lost one game during the double-elimination City Championship Tournament, becoming the regular-season and City Champions. The team began practicing in early March during cold temperatures and practiced four times per week throughout the season.
Gregory was assisted during All-Stars by coaches Jim Greer, LaTroy Bates, and Chris Sanders. The team played an All-Star team from Lancaster, with Union winning one game 9-8 and Lancaster winning three games in the best-of-five tournament. Gregory said Lancaster is a great team, and all of their six-year-old players had previous experience.
Some of the top batting averages from Union County’s 5-6-year-old All-Star team were States Farr with .727; Mason Greer and Carson Petrie, who each batted .700; Nolan Stines, who batted .636; and DJ Gregory, TJ Salter, and AJ Shaw, who each batted .600.
“I’m extremely proud of our team,” Gregory said. “They played their hearts out and left it all on the field. We held our own against a very good team.”
Gregory said he hopes Union County’s introduction of a younger age group will help the league, as it has for Lancaster, which won the district in four age groups.
“Union is starting to keep up with other counties because we are getting a good base,” Gregory said. “They’re learning the fundamentals — hitting, throwing, catching, base running, how to win and how to lose.”
Gregory said each of the age groups will continue to improve because of a ripple effect from the introduction of a younger age group.
“The six- and seven-year-olds will be better next year because they got a head start this year,” he said. “It’s amazing how good a baseball player a 5-6-year-old child can be when they are taught the basics and repetition. They learn the right way, and they’ll know the basics from now on.”
Gregory said he is thankful for the support of all the parents and fans who came out to show support during the regular season and All-Star tournaments.
“It takes a lot of people to make Dixie Youth go, and the board does a great job,” Gregory said.