By Ruth Fordon
Ocracoke baseball fever has returned! More teams and broader horizons fuel the enthusiasm of coaches, players and families. Coach Vince O’Neal talked about highlights of the season while feeding balls into the new pitching machine just donated at the Ocracoke School. “After four years, it is like we are jumping up to the major leagues now, starting from playing in Keith McDermott’s yard to now being part of the Hatteras Island Babe Ruth and Outer Banks Cal Ripken leagues,” he said.
Teams start young and are all co-ed. With 28 children the T-ball team of four to six year olds, coached by Matt Devan, Jason Wells, Adam Burleson and O’Neal, is the largest. They play no games against other teams. Rather, they learn about the game, equipment, how to play together and build basic skills. he undefeated Blue Claws, ages 7 to 9, playing in the Hatteras Island Babe Ruth League, are with Coaches David Scott Esham, Jason Elicker, Ed Fuller, Newt Sharber and Kelley Shinn. They have won 10 out of 10 games this season with eight new players.
According to Blue Claw player, Daymon Esham their wins can be attributed to their coaches. “It’s the kids,” David Scott (Daymon’s dad) corrects. “They are learning to focus, to watch and move their feet to the ball and get it in their glove.” “They are learning sportsmanship, being a team and they get really, really close,” notes Shinn, whose son Silas plays for the Blue Claws. “The social skills are huge.”
The Raptors also in the Hatteras Island league are 10- to 12-year-olds coached by Tyler Gilbert, Ernie Doshier, Roger Meacham and Jarett Werley with a 6-4 record this year. When asked about the challenges facing this age group, Gilbert said, “Translating practicing in a yard to a full size field—there are a lot of timing issues.” They also practice a lot of hitting, throwing and catching skills. “In tournament play during the last week of their season, they had parents on the edge of their seats,” says Darlene Styron Doshier, parent to Raptor player Alan. The team lost its groove until the last inning before winning 10-9 against the Hatteras Thunder.
During the academic year, the Ocracoke school middle school grades 7 to 9 also play as the Dolphins coached by Bill Cole and Vince O’Neal. Along with Brian Samick and Doug Eifert, O’Neal also coaches the 13- to 15-year-old team of 12 kids playing in the Outer Banks Cal Ripken League. Competing against four teams from Dare County, they play on the Manteo, Hatteras and Kill Devil Hills ball fields.
Sponsored by the Ocracoke Variety Store, this is their first year playing in the Outer Banks League. This group comprises most of the original 10- to 12-year-old Raptor baseball team that started play four years ago in the Hatteras Island Babe Ruth League. They continue to pave the way for future generations of kids on the island and will be a part of the first Ocracoke High School team.
“Next year we will have true home games on our own baseball field at Ocracoke Community Park,” continues O’Neal. “We hope to be playing on it by early fall of this year.” The park is being built at the end of Maurice Ballance Road.
Parents who make the field trips to games with their children are looking forward to less ferry and travel time, especially for the younger children on school nights. It has taken a great deal of dedication from all to practice almost every day plus travel to games.
Ocracoke’s commitment to the game of baseball is unwavering. “I never played baseball as a youth,” Esham said. “Maybe some softball and that was it.” “In the 70s and 80s, we played softball on the beach or wherever we could,” O’Neal added. When the Ocracoke Youth Center joined the Hatteras Island Cal Ripken League four years ago, many dreams were realized. Vince’s son Carson, pitching for the Variety Store team, always loved baseball and wanted the chance to play.
It’s for the children that the coaches turn out on the McDermott’s front lawn along Silver Lake Road, or on the school playground to drill and teach a game that was never possible for the island parents.
It is not luck that makes the Ocracoke teams perform so well. It’s the passion for the game and the dreams the parents carry for their children.
Future plans include a community team, a women’s softball team, co-ed adult rec softball league and a JV school team in 2015.