Kids’ favorite sport: it’s baseball

Published 5:21 pm Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Baseball is known as America’s pastime, and that distinction still rings true in Shelby County as more kids are playing baseball than any other sport.

In Alabaster, 400 boys signed up to play baseball this spring, while 100 girls signed on to play softball.

Alabaster Parks and Recreation Director Ricky Nance, who has been with the department for four years, said that while baseball numbers have remained steady throughout the years, they do drop from time-to-time because of competing leagues.

“Travel ball has affected your park ball numbers over the years,” Nance said.

While baseball numbers have remained high over the years, soccer participation numbers have rivaled that of baseball in Alabaster, with 400 kids playing in the fall of 2009.

In fact, double the number of children played soccer in Alabaster than played football last year.

“For the last two years, we’ve been pushing the 400-players mark in soccer,” said Nance. “I don’t know if it’s because the kids like it better or because it’s more involved. It seems to be easier to play.”

In Pelham, baseball also draws the most participation, with 300 boys signing up to play this spring. More than 80 girls also signed up to play softball.

While Alabaster’s baseball leagues stop at 13-14-year-olds, Pelham has a 15-18-year-olds league for the second year in a row.

“We saw a need for that,” said Pelham Parks and Recreation Director Billy Crandall. “The kids wanted another option other than the high school.”

But while Alabaster has a growing soccer league, Pelham doesn’t have a soccer league at all.

“We probably don’t have five calls in a year asking about soccer,” Crandall said. “I don’t know why we don’t, but we just don’t.”

Crandall said since the YMCA does have soccer, he feels the city also having one would just be a duplication of services.

Both Alabaster and Pelham do have basketball leagues, with 200 kids playing in the fall in Alabaster and 80 who played in the fall in Pelham.

Both directors said the number of kids in basketball fluctuates each year, but the current numbers are about the maximum that each city can support.

“Here’s the issue we’re facing: we don’t have a gym,” Crandall said.

The city uses the Pelham High School gym for games, but that can be burdensome once the school teams begin play.

“(PHS) has been very gracious with the gym, but it still can be difficult to work around scheduling,” Crandall said.

While the usual sports have drawn in more interest through the years, two other programs have begun to catch people’s attention.

Alabaster operates a Start Smart baseball league for kids 3-4 years old, and the league teaches both the kids and parents the basics of baseball and sportsmanship.

Nance said the league had just 20 kids play last year, but this year 32 have already signed up and registration doesn’t close for another week.

“The key with Start Smart is it’s all about fun,” Nance said. “Your first impression of sports, or whatever it is in, it sticks with you.”

In Pelham, although the city does not formally operate a tennis league, the parks and recreation department does oversee the Pelham Tennis Complex and the Pelham Racquet Club, and both facilities have seen an increase in participation.

But even with the increased interest in sports like tennis, neither city has any immediate plans for a citywide parks league.

“With the way we have things set up right now, when one season ends, another begins,” Crandall said. “There’s no time to do anything else.”

Nance said he has seen how tennis has exploded in Pelham, and he knows that it is only a matter of time before that enthusiasm for the sport reaches Alabaster.

“We’re nowhere near the level that Pelham is, but there’s interest in tennis here too,” Nance said.