With more than 300 enthusiastic youngsters eager to take to the diamond, Payson Little League officials are scrambling to ensure the spring and summer season is a banner one.
The upcoming campaign which officially begins April 21 at Rumsey Park will mark the culmination of year-round efforts by a dedicated band of league volunteers.
Local Little League president Ron Miller said the opening day's schedule won't be finalized until later this month, but he expects the ceremonies to include an introduction of players, team photographs and the playing of exhibition games.
Also on the agenda will be a series of baseball skill contests.
"We'd like to get a radar gun and maybe check (pitching) speed things like that," Miller said.
Following the opening day hoopla, players will focus their energies on winning pennants and performing well enough to be selected to all-star teams.
Each year, Rim country celestial squads as chosen by the coaches participate in area and district tournaments around the state.
At the conclusion of the 2001 season, Payson is scheduled to host the Senior Division Area One tournament. All-Star teams in other divisions will travel in July to Flagstaff, Page or the White Mountains for tourney play.
The Payson League
This year, players will compete in one of four divisions Farm, Minor, Major or Senior. Age and experience were the criteria used to assign players to teams.
The Farm division, with six teams, will comprise 7- to 8-year-old athletes still learning the nuances of the game. Coaches will be asked to pitch in and no official score is to be kept.
"The Farm league is not so competitive ... its purpose is to have fun and learn the game," Miller said.
Athletes ages 9 to 11 with more advanced skills will be assigned to the eight-team Minor Division. In the Minors, players must handle pitching chores, and official scores are kept.
The Major Division, also with eight squads, will be comprised mostly of 11- and 12-year-olds but athletes as young as 9 may participate if their skills are developed enough, Miller said. Major Division players also pitch and scores are recorded.
Most games will be played on the Rumsey Park fields.
The four-team Senior Division hosts athletes 13 to 15 and plays its contests on the Payson High School and Rumsey II diamonds.
While the majority of players are from the Payson area, there are two squads from Tonto Basin entered in the Minor and Major Divisions.
Pine will field a team in the Farm division.
Players were placed on their respective teams based on a series of tryouts held Feb. 24. After watching the athletes go through their paces, coaches were asked to draft players to their teams.
Youngsters who missed the tryouts might be out of luck this season.
According to Miller, rosters are limited to 12 players per team and all are jam packed.
A waiting list grows daily but the chance of those players being placed on a team is slight, he said.
Now that most of the league's agenda is in place, the final obstacles league officials are scrambling to overcome is finding enough umpires, attracting three additional coaches and developing a fund-raising program.
Currently, Miller and league vice president Don Engler are scouring the community in search of individuals willing to umpire games in all divisions. Umpiring is a paid position but rates have not yet been set and games are played weeknights from 4:45 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Potential umpires should have a good knowledge of the game and will be asked to pass a written rules and regulations test.
Miller is hoping to attract a pool of about 12 umpires. The league is also in search of a coach for the Minor Division, and two for the Farm League.
The method for the summer's fund-raising efforts, which is a huge part of Little League success, has not yet been decided. But discount cards that allow the purchasers to enjoy reduced prices at various Rim country businesses is one of the methods the Little League board is considering, Miller said.
The other, he added, is a T-shirt sale.
Anyone interested in helping the League, either as a paid umpire or a volunteer, should call Miller (474-5093) or Engler (474-4609).