MOUNT PLEASANT – Until this spring, Mount Pleasant didn’t have a Dixie Youth Baseball program.
Now, after a few short months of intense preparation, 12 boys from this idyllic but hard-nosed town will be playing on Dixie Youth’s grandest stage.
The Mount Pleasant Tigers 11-and-12-year old all-star team is headed to Lumberton this week to compete in the 2019 Dixie Youth “O” Zone Division II World Series. Teams from Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Mississippi and Virginia will be in the field, and Mount Pleasant is the tournament host from North Carolina.
The town is abuzz with enthusiasm and support for The Little Team as it prepares for its latest challenge. A parade will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Town Hall to celebrate the players and coaches. The Kannapolis Intimidators even offered support by recognizing the team during its home game on Saturday, with a portion of ticket donated toward helping the Tigers make the trip to the World Series.
The team includes Kayden Walker, Logan Rogers, Owen Deaton, Aiden Johnson, Noah Hammac, Austin Negre, Bricen Douglas, Mason Ferguson, Jacob Reigel, Christian Scott, Aiden Saxman and Connor Holstein.
Dale Holstein is the head coach, while Mike Shoe, Ray Ferguson and Rick Hammac are assistant coaches.
Dale Holstein said what the team is doing is important, not only for the players but also the town.
“I think it means a lot, because I don’t think they’ve ever done anything like this,” the head coach said. “And the community out here is unbelievable. We’ve had sponsors and people on our Facebook page. The whole community’s behind us and supporting us. Even the mayor (Del Eudy) and everybody’s going to throw us a little parade and have the town out here telling the boys, ‘Great job and good luck.’
“It’s kind of a big deal,” Dale Holstein added. “I told the guys, ‘This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Soak every bit of it up.’”
The players are indeed enjoying the moment, happily and humbly accepting the pats on the back from folks around town. But Holstein makes sure to point out that the praise has been preceded by hard work all summer long.
Instead of spending the bulk of their free time playing video games or making trips to the beach, like most of their peers, the Tigers have been sharpening their baseball skills in sun-soaked practices and then testing them against some of the top youth teams in the state.
“It’s very fulfilling to know that these boys are still out here,” Holstein said. “It’s hot outside, and they grit through it. It’s definitely a passion. Every one of those boys out there, that’s what they love to do, is be out here on the ball field instead of sitting at the house not doing anything. The camaraderie between those boys is awesome. They love each other, and we’re a big family.”
For years, while competing under the Mount Pleasant Youth Athletics Association umbrella, the Tigers were not affiliated with a national baseball program. But with more and more boys leaving recreation league play and joining travel ball teams, Dale Holstein and Rick Hammac, now a Tigers assistant coach, felt a need to try something different for the good of the community.
“As far as structure and trying to really build something out here, we joined Dixie Youth, just to kind of make it a little bit bigger than what it was and try to attract more kids here to play baseball,” Holstein recalled.
Currently, Holstein said, Mount Pleasant has the only Dixie Youth program in Cabarrus County. And this season, the town actually had two teams for 11- and 12-year-olds – “Mount Pleasant 1” and “Mount Pleasant 2.”
Holstein coached one squad, while Hammac coached the other. To help boost numbers, some players were brought up from the 9-10 team. After the regular season, the best 12 players were chosen as all-stars, and the pursuit toward the Dixie Youth World Series began.
Mount Pleasant took on established Dixie Youth programs in places like Rowan, Stanly and Union counties. The Tigers were often the smallest – and youngest – team on the field, but it didn’t matter to them, and it certainly didn’t limit them.
“We sat all the boys down and told them, ‘Hey, this is what our expectations are. And if you agree to our terms, you can play baseball for us,’” Dale Holstein said. “And they hit the field running, and we worked them. If we weren’t playing, we were practicing. If we weren’t practicing, we were scrimmaging. We were just trying to get them in front of teams and trying to get them better.
“We did pretty good throughout the season,” Holstein added. “We had a pretty good record. We lost a couple of them. We played (Division) II, and we were playing against some D-I’s. But it was good for them to see that and try to become more competitive. We hung with them. We played 42 games in two months.”
Holstein shook his head.
“We played some baseball,” he said with a laugh.
The Tigers’ season got even brighter when Holstein was approached by Dixie Youth officials one day. They wanted to invite the first-year program to be the home team in the Dixie Youth ‘O” Zone World Series in Lumberton.
“Some of the directors came down and said, ‘Man, you guys are doing great things with this outfit, and you’ve kind of surprised us with this being your first year,’” Dale Holstein recalled. “And we said, ‘Yeah, we’re up for the challenge.’
“We’ve got probably one of the younger teams. We’ve got some 10-year-olds, but we’ve been competitive with 11- and 12-year-olds all around the state, so I don’t see why we wouldn’t be able to go out there and be competitive.”
Mount Pleasant will open play on June 26 against Alabama in a game set to start at 12:45 p.m. The going in Lumberton certainly won’t be easy this week.
In Dixie Youth “O” Zone games, the players compete under rules that effectively simulate the game played at higher levels. Pitchers throw from a mound 50 feet from the plate, compared to 46 feet in Dixie Youth’s AA, AAA and Major divisions; baserunners are allowed to take a “lead” off the bag; the distance between bases is 70 feet, compared to 60 feet at AA, AAA and Major; and instead of the outfield fence being 200 feet from the plate, it’s 225 to 250 feet away in “O” Zone play.
Regardless how daunting the circumstances might appear, Holstein expects his players to take their town’s blue-collar mindset 120 miles down to Lumberton, do their best, and be content with whatever results may come.
“I’m telling them just to soak it all in, but I’m also telling them, ‘Play like you practice,’” Holstein said. “That’s why we worked hard every day, is to go down there and play our hardest. The score doesn’t really dictate our wins or losses; it’s what you put into it and what you take out of it that determines a win or loss.
“We’re a family. We’re going to go down there and have some fun.”