Player enthusiasm, as well as the level of cheers and applause, were major league level as the 7- to 9-year-old Rockies and A’s took the field June 27 for their Panther League game at Englewood’s Miller Field.
The Panther League is one portion of the Englewood Parks and Recreation Department’s youth baseball program.
There are about 250 boys and girls in the program that, in addition to the Panther League, also has the T-ball League for 4- to 6-year-olds, the Arapahoe League for 10- to 12-year-olds and the Englewood League for 13- to 15-year-olds.
As the name indicates, T-ball has players hitting the ball off a tee, while the Panther League players hit balls from a pitching machine. Players pitch the ball in both the Arapahoe and the Englewood leagues. Also, the rules and the distance between bases increase for the players in the Arapahoe and Englewood leagues.
Panther League teams play at Miller Field at 3600 S. Elati St. Two games are played at a time, one on the east field and one on the west field. Coaches can work with players while they are on the field or at bat.
The Panther League Rockies are coached by 1998 Englewood High School graduate Nate Johnson.
“This is my third year coaching kids. I do it because I love kids and because I love baseball,” he said as he prepared for the game. “Coaching kids this age is so much fun because they really go out and enjoy the game. We can coach the players and work with them when they are in the field or at bat. The kids are eager to learn at this age,which is before they get very competitive, forget to have fun and know everything there is to know.”
Bo Johnson moved up this year from T-ball to the Panther League.
“I think the machine pitching is about 10 percent more fun than T-ball because you have to see if you can hit the ball,” the coach’s son said. “I like hitting best but I like being on the team so I can make new friends. Baseball is fun and it is funner this year because my dad is my coach.”
Across the field, A’s coach Jeremy Dever is coaching youth baseball for the second season.
“I enjoy working with kids,” the Englewood High School graduate said. “It is great to see the kids having fun and it is exciting to watch them get better playing baseball.”
He said his dad coached him in youth baseball and he just followed the example.
“The kids are great,” he said. “They want to learn, they want to please you and they want to do well out there on the field. I think it is a privilege to coach kids like this.”
Dominic Dever said he played T-ball last year and moved up to the Arapahoe League this year.
“I am playing baseball because it is fun and I love it,” the coach’s son said. “It was a little hard to get used to the speed of the ball coming from the machine. But, when you do get used to the speed and hit, the ball goes a lot farther than when you hit it off the tee.”
He said being on the team is fun and he loves batting and all the other stuff, like having fun with his teammates.