More than 60 aspiring Little League players turned out Saturday at Rumsey Park for the unofficial start of the spring campaign.
The athletes gathered on the South Rumsey Park multipurpose field where they showcased their hitting, fielding and base running skills for coaches who later that day conducted the organization's annual draft to place players on teams.
This season, for the first time, 8-year-olds can participate in a "players-pitch" league rather than "coach-pitch" only.
Five player-pitch teams will be fielded as well as the traditional five coach-pitch teams this year in the minor league division (8 and 9 year olds, said Payson Little League official Linda Schreur.
In the majors division, (10 to 12 year olds), Payson will again sponsor five teams as the league has in the past.
Also, junior division play (13 to 15 year olds) will return after being suspended last year because of conflicts with the Rim Country Middle School baseball team.
"The middle school won't have a team this year so we will have one in Little League," Schreur said.
Tryouts for those teams will be held at 9 a.m. March 4 at Rumsey Park.
If the 9 and 10 year olds' team lives up to its accomplishment of last year, the squad could be playing in the postseason.
At the conclusion of the 2005 campaign, coach Ty Goodman predicted great things for the crew.
"They'll have most of their ace pitchers back and should be better than (the 2005) team," he said.
That's a bold statement considering last season's 9 and 10 year Rim Country all-star team was one of the most successful in Payson history, winning both area and district championships with undefeated records.
The stars were only the second Payson-area Little League team to win both area and division championships.
With those crowns, the team earned a seed into the prestigious Arizona State Little League Tournament in Phoenix where it finished with a 2-4 record.
In the opener, the team pulled off what Goodman called "the upset of the tournament," whipping two-time defending state champion Phoenix Arrowhead 4-3. The Payson celestial crew also beat Eloy, but dropped decisions to Ahwatukee, Bullhead City, Verde Valley and Douglas.
"We were in most all those (losses), but then had one bad inning that really cost us," Goodman said.
The coach says his prediction that the 2006 edition might be an even better team is because many of the players who started last season will return to the 9- and 10-year-old division.
"Our pitchers, Blake Cannon, Chris Cooper and Nick Mullen will be back with another year of maturity and experience," he said. "There's some other good position players (returning) too."
Goodman says he won't coach the all-stars this year because he'll move up to the 11- and 12-year age division, which his son, Gunner, will play in.