There’s something unusual happening at Mustang Field this summer.
Once a week, players, coaches, volunteer assistants and parents are gathering at the baseball diamond. What’s different is the age of the players, many of whom are first and second graders, others kindergarteners.
“Oh man, this is so much fun!” said Brandon DeMatto, who coaches the Manitou Springs High School baseball team during the school year.
This summer, he’s sharing his knowledge of the sport by teaching fundamentals of the game to boys and girls who are just starting out. Several current and former MSHS players are helping.
“It’s fantastic. For the first time ever, we’ve got kids as young as pre-school playing baseball,” DeMatto said.
Well, the phrase “playing baseball” might be a bit of a stretch. But the youngest participants are working hard to learn how to throw, catch and hit. It’s tricky business for kids whose energy levels seem boundless, in contrast to their attention span.
“Corralling 35 to 40 youngsters this age is a little challenging,” DeMatto said with a laugh. “We’re not great at it yet but we’re getting better. And at the end of the day, the kids are having fun.”
No doubt about it. Just watching the young players — and seeing the smiles on their parents’ faces — can generate a sense of appreciation for the new program. For the youngest, pre-school to second grade, it’s titled Learn Baseball Right. For the older kids, the third and fourth graders, it’s the Mini Mustangs Baseball program.
It’s all part of a much larger array of new summer activities for both adults and children from the Manitou Springs Park and Recreation Department, headed by Skyler Beck.
“We’re finding that the summer programs are being extremely popular,” said Beck, who helped initiate the activities after he started the job a little more than a year ago. “Enrollment in most cases is nearly maxed out.”
The recreational programs at local parks this summer include yoga, meditation, physical fitness, kung fu and tai chi. Soccer will start this fall, and planning is underway for fall volleyball and football.
Area residents who have a keen knowledge of their sport or activity are teaching the summer programs.
“People want to recreate in Manitou and we’re happy to help provide the facilities,” Beck said. “We’re also grateful for the good partnership we have with School District 14, especially the coaches and athletic director (Cameron Jones), who have really embraced what we’re trying to do.
“They are sharing their field space and promoting our programs, and they’ve really stepped up by being good partners.”
Program fees pay the instructors for their efforts.
“They are community members who have talents they would like to share,” said Meghan Weiss, the city’s recreation and events coordinator. “We’re encouraging adults to teach if they have special skills.
“It’s been a super successful effort so far. It’s definitely a need we have found. For instance, we had over 80 kids register for the baseball program.”
And in the final analysis, it’s the Manitou families who are proving to be the driving force behind the success.
“We’re thrilled to have this many kids involved,” DeMatto said at the end of a recent session at the ball park. “I think it’s important that these kids, who are growing up in an influential time of their lives, get exposure and experience athletics.”