Comprised of the seven year old all-stars from last year’s Optimist Club Youth Baseball League, the Next Level Scots 8U travel baseball team steamrolled through competition from North and South Carolina in the 2012 off-season, going 35-4 including a most recent championship win at the Nations Baseball Super Regional tournament held in Charlotte this past weekend. It was their eighth 8U championship thus far this year.
But the nine players who were a part of that team will now suit up and compete opposite one another as the start of the Optimist Club Youth Baseball League season begins on Saturday. And for Next Level Scots coach Scott Cole, the competition which will be offered can only benefit the kids who play for the love of the game.
“My son loves the Optimist league because it gives him even greater opportunities to continue playing baseball throughout the year,” said Cole, whose now-8 year old son Christian played for the Next Level Scots as a pitcher and shortstop. “He really takes to working with other kids, and one of the truly great things about the league is getting the chance to see kids teaching kids.”
The 480 boys and girls who will don an Optimist Club league uniform this season will participate in the annual “Jamboree” event, which sees it’s opening ceremonies beginning at 8:30 a.m. on April 21st. After the brief celebration however, it becomes business as usual, with games being played well into the evening between kids aged 5-12 years old. Every game will count towards each team’s regular season record, and games will be played Mondays through Thursdays at Optimist Park.
While the league supports healthy competition amongst the kids, Optimist Club President Robert Massey sees the Jamboree and the season in general as part of a bigger picture.
“I think part of it is about the love of the game, but it’s really about the children involved,” he said. “It gives these kids a place to go, do some recreation and get outside, which to me is the most important aspect of it all.”
What makes this year’s Jamboree particularly special is what it symbolizes: Saturday marks the 50th aniversary for both the youth baseball league and the Optimist Club as a whole. Since its inception, the Laurinburg Optimist Club has operated without funding from Scotland County and the state of North Carolina, instead earning it’s donations through charitable events. All who are staffed with the club, from maintenance employees to the baseball umpires, work on an entirely volunteer basis. The next charity event sponsored by the Optimist Club is a fish fry that occurs on Saturday May 16th, which serves lunch from 11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. and dinner from 4:30-7:00 p.m. All proceeds collected will go towards the continual funding of the Optimist Club.
“The baseball league is our most visible platform for the community and is entirely free for the kids,” Massey said. “It is 100 percent free to play in our league, and it’s really just a great group of people who get together and help create an outlet for families looking to be active in the community.”
And while charity forms the backbone of the Optimist Club, the youth baseball league has prided itself on producing some of the top talent in North Carolina since it was formed 50 years ago. Since the club’s formation, Scotland High School’s lauded baseball program has seen numerous players come from the Optimist league, and the league itself has won over five Optimist State Championships at various age levels as well.
Cole himself was a part of the southeast region-winning Optimist baseball team in 1988, and he hopes that he can develop in son Christian the same personal connection to the league as he did over 20 years ago.
“I grew up playing Optimist baseball, as did many of the coaches who take part in it year after year,” Cole said. “It’s an amazing chance to give these kids the same avenue to play great baseball as we all did growing up.”