Coming off a calendar year of fast-pitch softball, the Lutz Leaguerettes have taken another step forward.
The girls recreational softball league recently announced the completion of several new capital improvement projects at both Oscar Cooler and Nye parks.
Some of the highlights:
- Field refurbishments, including new clay and magnetic break-free bases on all five fields
- Outdoor batting turfs and mats for hitting cages
- New remote-operated scoreboards
- Updated concession area with a sound system
- Remodeled board room with new carpet and paint job
- Park security cameras
Hillsborough County owns both parks, but the Leaguerettes have a field-usage agreement, and work closely with county’s parks and recreation department.
Mike Cook, president of the Lutz Leaguerettes, said the additions were made gradually during the past 18 months to two years.
He estimates more than $40,000 in upgrades were made via a combination of donations, league funds and various sponsorships.
“We try not to skimp on equipment, because it gets used every day,” Cook said.
Affiliations with local professional sports teams (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Rays, Tampa Bay Lightning, USF Bulls) and other businesses (Disney World, Great Clips, Publix) also helped make the upgrades possible, he said.
“We work with a lot of different organizations,” Cook said. “We work with whoever we can.”
Though he’s unsure of a timeline, the league president said he’d eventually like to install CCTV video cameras for each field; the cameras would allow players’ families and friends to live stream Leaguerettes games through a computer.
The announced upgrades, meanwhile, follow what was an eventful 2016 for the organization.
Last January, the Leaguerettes announced they were offering a recreational fast-pitch league for the first time in its 37-year history.
Just six months later, the Leaguerettes discontinued their slow-pitch leagues altogether, citing dwindling registration figures and an overwhelming preference for fast-pitch.
(Other softball programs — the Brandon Leaguerettes, North Tampa Leaguerettes, Tampa Bay Velocity and FishHawk Miss Tampa Bay Softball — all transitioned exclusively to fast-pitch over the past few seasons.)
For the Leaguerettes, the exclusive move to fast pitch has been a success thus far.
The 2016 fall fast-pitch season reportedly had about 160 players.
That figure, Cook said, was about three times as many as previous slow-pitch fall leagues, which typically drew “40 or 50 players.”
“We were pleasantly surprised to get as many registered players as we did,” Cook said of the fall season. “I think a lot of that has to do with the upgrades to the field…and the word spreading of moving over to fast pitch.
“I’m really happy with the turnout.”
Meantime, the 2017 Leaguerettes spring season is just around the corner.
Registration is open through Jan. 21, with the season slated to kick off in February.
The spring league is limited to the first 300 players that sign up, due to available field space and resources; about 130 players were registered, as of Jan. 11.
Cook said six divisions will likely be offered, for girls ages 4 to 18.
They include: t-ball (ages 4-5), 8U (ages 6-8), 10U (ages 8-10), 12U (10-12), 14U (ages 12-14), 16U (ages 14 to 16) and 18U (ages 16 to 18).
Despite “some growing pains” in the initial transition to fast pitch, the second full season should be smoother, Cook acknowledged.
“We’ve had a lot to learn—a lot of meetings and a lot of different ideas,” Cook said. “We had to learn the rules of fast pitch compared to slow pitch.”
In fact, the organization brought in a few fast-pitch experts, training Leaguerettes coaches and players via skill clinics. League board members, too, spoke at length with high school coaches and athletic directors, learning the nuances of the game.
In general, the offensive strategy differs between fast pitch and slow pitch.
In fast pitch, the general offensive approach is to play ‘small ball,’ where bunting, slapping and hitting singles are heavily relied upon to generate runs. Conversely, offensive players in slow-pitch softball are often taught to hit the ball as far as possible, due to the relative ease at making contact.
More protective gear, such as facemasks, is also required in fast pitch.
“We’re at the point where we’re pretty sufficient in our knowledge of the game; a lot of people are happy about fast pitch,” Cook said. “We’re continuously evolving,”
The league president also noted there aren’t too many requests for slow pitch anymore.
“I think we’re at the point where everybody realizes we’re completely fast pitch, and now we’re just in the process of growing the league.”
Even so, the league’s “ultimate objective” remains the same — create a family based atmosphere in a community setting.
And, let the youngsters have fun. The Leaguerettes are a PONY (Protect Our Nation’s Youth) Softball affiliate. For more information, visit LutzSoftball.com.
Published January 18, 2017