Community Sports

Saturday, Feb 23 2013 06:31 PM

Young ballplayers ready to take field at state-of-the-art Aera Park facility

BY STEPHEN LYNCH Special to The Californian

Hall of Fame baseball player Rogers Hornsby once said, "People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring."

That long wait is over for nearly 1,800 local kids excited to play baseball this year.

Saturday morning, Bakersfield Southwest Baseball held its opening day ceremonies at Aera Park, the organization's state-of-the-art facility that houses 11 fields.

Bakersfield City Council member Harold Hansen and City Parks and Recreation Director Dianne Hoover each spoke at the hour-long event, which began with all 157 of the league's teams gathering on one field after being introduced to the huge crowd on hand by local TV anchors Kiyoshi Tomono and Maddie Janssen.

Later, Aera Energy President and CEO Gaurdie Banister took the podium to officially dedicate the park's seven new scoreboards, which were funded by a $32,000 donation from his company.

In 2007, Aera donated $250,000 to help with the park's original construction.

"We are excited to continue supporting Southwest Baseball by providing funds for the new scoreboards," Banister said. "Congratulations to the board members, coaches, players and parents for this fine facility. Aera Park is a true testament to the power of collaboration between local government, local companies and the community. We are happy to have played a part in its construction and enhancement."

The park was teeming to the brim with youngsters and their families Saturday morning.

The league has grown in numbers of participants each year it has been open, according to BSWB Sponsorship Vice President Brent Clayton.

"In 2009 we grew 50 percent," Clayton said. "In 2010 we grew 30 percent. And now we're honestly at maximum capacity. Last year we had almost 500 kids on the waiting list. And this year we still have people trying to register but we're full."

Many of the 5-18-year-olds who play in the league are new to the game of baseball.

Nearly 500 boys and girls, ages 5-6, are currently set to play in the Shetland Division, the league's largest grouping.

All but players in the youngest division, which doesn't keep score during its games, will play on fields that have one of the new scoreboards.

"The scoreboards are a welcome addition to a facility that is considered one of the finest in the region," BSWB President Darren Billesbach said. "We are grateful to Aera for their continued support. We are eager to begin our 2013 season."

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