ELIZABETHTOWN — Aside from a cool, constant breeze, Saturday morning shaped up perfectly for the opening ceremonies of Elizabethtown Dixie Youth Baseball — and Leinwand Park was abuzz with supporters, parents, coaches and anxious uniformed youngsters just itching to hear the words “Play ball.”
But before the first pitch could be thrown, the players gathered with their teams around the edge of the infield on the Carl A. Newkirk diamond for a short ceremony to kick off the season.
Part of that ceremony included a surprise recognition for Mark Gillespie, who has been involved in Dixie Youth Baseball since 1986 in Elizabethtown and served as the town’s DYB president since 1992. On Saturday, Gillespie was honored with a plaque that puts him in the Danny Jones Club, the highest honor given in DYB.
The award was presented to Gillespie by Carey Wrenn, state director for Dixie Youth Baseball out of Kernersville.
“I’ve known Mark for many years, and he’s put a lot of time and effort into the program here in Elizabethtown,” said Wrenn. “He’s very deserving of this honor. He loves what he does for Dixie Youth Baseball.”
The Danny Jones Club is named in recognition of Dixie Youth Baseball’s first commissioner.
Gillespie was completely blindsided by the award.
“I was very surprised by this,” said Gillespie, who also serves as an assistant state director for Dixie Youth Baseball in North Carolina.
Gillespie said one things got him involved as a DYB volunteer 30 years ago, and there’s one thing that has kept him involved.
“I had Dixie Youth Baseball when I was growing up, and I know what it did for me so I wanted to give back to the community and Dixie Youth baseball somehow,” he said. “And now, I just really enjoy being around the kids — I love to see them get their very first hit and make their very first catch. The smiles on their faces are good to see.”
Once the opening ceremony was concluded — complete with remarks from Elizabethtown Mayor Sylvia Campbell and others — umpires took their places, teams filled the dugouts and those words finally rang out … “Play ball.”
W. Curt Vincent can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.