Sports

Little Leaguers love to hit home runs

WARNER ROBINS — Now come the fireworks.

Less than a week after softball all-stars from across the South banged neon-yellow balls all over the new yard at Southeast Park, the baseball boys and their high-tech bats take center stage starting today.

And you can bet more than a few will shoot home runs rocketing over the fence and beyond during the Little League Baseball Southeastern Region Tournament.

“You’ll see a bunch of power,” said Phillip Carter, whose son Knox plays for the Georgia team from Columbus, which is making its first appearance at the Little League Southeastern Region Tournament since 2006. “Fans should be in for a real treat.”

Carter’s nephew, pitching and hitting phenom Kyle Carter, starred for the Columbus kids when they won the World Series four years ago.

Carter said some of the tourney’s sluggers have enough boom in their bats to crank shots upward of 300 feet, which would fly well clear of Southeast Park’s 225-foot outfield wall.

Columbus manager Randy Morris, who led the ‘06 squad to Williamsport glory, said there is just something special about Little League long balls.

“I think it’s every Little Leaguer’s dream to hit a home run. Everybody wants to hit at least one,” Morris said Friday as teams began arriving for today’s opening games. “And every fan wants to see home runs. I’ve never heard a fan say they’d like to see a 1-0 game.”

With balls soaring over the fences, fans will also likely notice a Little League tradition: the way tournament volunteers do their best to track down homers and return the mementos to the kids who sock them.

This is the first time the Southeastern tourney has had fans situated beyond its outfield walls. At least live ones. When the event was in Gulfport, Fla., homers cranked to left field landed in a cemetery.

“We may not get all of (the balls), but people want the kids to have them,” longtime volunteer Gary Kay said. “They know it’s a memory for them.”

Columbus player Matthew Lang said, “It would be amazing to trot around the bases here and hear all the fans cheering.”

Lang’s brother Ryan played for the 2006 world champs.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Williamsport,” Lang said. “That’s my dream. I’m just hoping we win this and we get to go.”

His dad Greg said, “It’s hard to imagine you’d have another son on an all-star team advancing this far. ... His brother told him to soak it in and enjoy it. Not many kids get to experience it.”

Greg Lang said that when the Columbus kids got to the ballpark on Friday morning “they were all asking, ‘Is this like Williamsport?’”

Lang nodded. “Yeah.”

Tom Davis, manager of the Alabama all-stars from Huntsville, said the deeper fences may take some getting used to, though.

“At our park and at our state tournament it’s 200-foot fences. Now it’s 225,” he said. “There were some home runs hit at the state tournament that won’t be home runs here, but there were also some that would’ve gone out anywhere.”

And those kinds of majestic shots with the hillside backdrop at Southeast Park will no doubt be eye-poppers. But at least they won’t disappear.

“You’ve got the hill out there so you can see where it lands,” Davis said.

Contact writer Joe Kovac at 744-4397.

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