By Noell Wolfgram Evans
Listen. Can you hear it? The soft, sweet strains of “Take me Out to the Ballgame” being whistled and sung across neighborhoods. From Broad Street to Wheatland Avenue, people are celebrating spring or, as some prefer to call it, the start of baseball season and for many Westside residents that’s synonymous with one thing – the West Columbus Baseball Club.
This year the club celebrates its 50th anniversary of building friendships, creating memories, joining neighborhoods together, and of course playing baseball. Randy Lawson, league director, said that this year will continue the tradition that was started by Blackie Williams some 50 years ago.
“The Westside is a hotbed for baseball,” Lawson said, “and what we have built is what I like to call a more family type of play. We’re a rec league so it’s more about the game (than other leagues).”
When it was first formed, the club offered a place for neighborhoods to build and then bring their teams for league play. Over the years though as neighborhoods have shifted, and other leagues have grown and contracted, the club has lifted its player boundaries. Now the only requirement for playing is not where you live, but a desire to have fun.
Lawson said the league has retained the original names for their teams because of the strong community ties. That has given them teams like the Brookshire Bearcats, the Georgian Heights Red Hawks, the Galloway Wildcats, and the Crossroads Cardinals.
The club sponsors two leagues. The younger division for ages 4 to 12, has four levels broken up by the ages of the players. The pony division, for ages 13 – 16, offers additional age-based playing options.
The goal of the club Lawson said, is to instill in kids a love of the game. He also has a goal for the parents.
“Little league baseball is a good way to keep parents off the streets,” Lawson joked.
The club plans to celebrate its milestone anniversary with a homecoming celebration on June 3 during that day’s games. It will be a casual affair for people to get together, discuss memories, reconnect with old friends and share photos. Lawson will have a scanner on site so that he can copy as much of the shared history as possible.
This year, 235 players will throw a strike, hit a double, or catch a fly ball as part of a club team. Lawson said that the number of players has held steady, but that the number of places to play has dropped.
“We’ve lost over 30 diamonds in the past ten years,” Lawson said.
Through construction, land use priorities, and the changing makeup of the populace a number of baseball diamonds have become parkspace or soccer fields.
“It means that our biggest challenge is finding a place to play,” said Lawson.
While teams are already set for this year, there are always opportunities to get involved with the club. Their website has schedules, sign-up information, and details about the homecoming celebration at www.westcolumbusbaseball.com.