Swapping pins is a big deal with Little League baseball players as they break the ice around new people.
With a mix of people from different states, it is easy for players from different hometowns to see they have more in common than they originally may believe — they all love baseball.
As the Dizzy Dean World Series opened its festivities Thursday in Jefferson with a welcome celebration for the 16 teams in town for the start of the 13-year-old World Series, trading pins decorated with logos and bats was part of the initial introduction at Gresham Motorsports Park.
“Our goal is to trade pins with at least one player from each team,” said Scott Gaba, coach of the Jefferson 13-year-olds.
Even with teams representing states from Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Tennessee, the Dizzy Dean World Series — taking place at the Lamar Murphy Park — will bring together between 300-400 players from all across the southeast.
Still, there will be a heavy representation of local players with the Jefferson team, coached by Gaba, and the Jackson County team, led by Shawn Ferguson.
Thursday’s opening ceremonies were designed to let the kids let loose in a safe environment, while the out-of-towners acclimated to being in Georgia. Fireworks, pace car rides and eats for the kids and coaches were all part of the opening-night kick off party for the Dizzy Dean event that will last through Wednesday.
“We wanted a family-friendly environment for the teams visiting,” said track general manager, Dan Elliott. “This allows them to be introduced to a new level of sports.”
This isn’t the first time that Jefferson has played host to a Dizzy Dean World Series. In 2009, it hosted the World Series for 11-year olds, says Jackson County Parks and Recreation director Ricky Sanders.
From that experience, they fine-tuned their ability to bring so many visitors into the community, while being able to put just as much attention into the details of setting up the three fields for play, as well as getting enough workers in place to handle the hustle and bustle.
Sanders says all the hard work is worth it to see the kids having fun on the field.
“It’s great to host an event like this,” Sanders said. “The best part is seeing everyone playing baseball and having fun.
“We also want to be able to show off our parks, community and hopefully these visitors will come back again.”
Certainly the two local teams playing are at an advantage with the logistics of the tournament. They don’t have to drive a long way, stay in a hotel room or play at an unfamiliar park. Jefferson comes into the tournament with a second place finish at the state tournament, also in Jefferson, while Jackson County fields a handful of players that played in the World Series last season.
On top of that, families of the local kids can just hop in the car and drive down the road for the game of their choice.
“I keep hearing that we’re going to have a lot of our people coming out for the games,” Ferguson said.
The Jefferson and Jackson County clubs also share the common hometown feel. Ferguson says that about six of his players have yet to play All-Star competition. Gaba added that nine of the players on the Jefferson team have played together for the past 3-4 seasons.
“Our team doesn’t have a bunch of elite players,” Ferguson said. “Their moms and dads came and signed them up during the rec league season.”
The tournament consists of three games for each team in pool play. From there, they go to either a double-elimination gold bracket or a single-elimination silver bracket.