Wood bat tourney draws ‘Future Stars’

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Sam Kitchens is taking a trip down memory lane this weekend via a group of 13-year-old Troy baseball players

Kitchens is one of four Troy coaches headed to the Dixie Boys Future Stars wooden bat tournament this weekend in Dothan. They’re taking 24 13- and 14-year-olds to play in the tournament.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Kitchens, who has been participating in the event since it began in 2008. “It goes back to the old times, like when I was growing up and all we had to use was a wooden bat.”

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The tournament is the brainchild of Sandy Jones, the commissioner of Dixie Youth Baseball, and typically draws players from across the Southeast.

Part of the appeal for the youngsters is the opportunity to forgo aluminum and composition bats and test their skills with wooden bats.

“It changes the game,” said Gary Fox, who will be coaching Troy’s 14-year-old team in the tournament. “You typically don’t have a high-scoring game in this tournament. You have to rely on good, solid baseball and defense to make the difference.”

The composition bats, which are slowly being phased out of high school and even Dixie Boys play, provide a “pop” on the ball which can’t be replicated with a wooden bat.

“Hitting the ball is the same, but the ball is going to come off the bat much different when it’s a wooden bat,” Fox said. “The bat speed of a player will determine how far they hit the ball.”

Kitchens said the tournament is a break for players between regular rec season play and tournament play. And the relaxed atmosphere makes it a fun experience.

“They play three or four games over the weekend and all the kids who’ve played in it over the years have enjoyed it,” he said. “It’s a new experience for most of them. Some of them have never used a wooden bat for anything, and they get excited about using the wooden bats.”

Kitchens and Russ Harris are coaching the Junior Dixie Boys West team. Troy players on the team include Ty Witherington, Hayes Lee, Colby Roberts, Keigan Simmons, Cole Wilson, DeAndre Pitts, Jerrell Lawson, Hunter Blackmon, Eric Lee and Drew Starling.

Fox and Brett Stallworth are coaching Troy Stars North team, comprised entirely of 14-year-olds from Troy. Players include Jason Fleming, Trip Roberts, Cole Labrant, Hunter Baggett, John Michael Renfroe, Bryant Stephens, Wright Graning, Patrick Henderson, Reilly Fox, Xavius Burden, Austin Ingram, Devin Hooks, Chase Hartley and Rush Hixon.

Teams will practice on Friday and tournament play begins Saturday.