Baseball season won't begin until February for the Columbia County Recreation Department's Dixie Youth Baseball League at Patriots Park, but when the 11- and 12-year-olds take the field this spring, they'll face a few changes.
Patriots Park Athletic Supervisor Randy Haygood announced that for the first time their Dixie Youth Baseball League will spread the diamond to 50 feet from the mound to the plate, and 70 feet between each base.
The league had previously played with a 46-foot distance from mound to plate and 60 feet in the base paths.
"The quality of ball has changed so much," Haygood said. "The kids are bigger and stronger and hitting the ball harder. I actually think it's going to be safer."
Haygood said the change came from the national Dixie Youth Baseball office. The organization, which spreads across 11 states in the Southeast, is giving local leagues the option to move to the 50-70 length or remain at 46-60.
Patriots Park Athletic Coordinator Kelvin Lampkin said the decision to make the switch was for the sake of the children playing the game.
"The advantages are at 10 years old most kids throw 46-60, then once you turn 13 you go to 54 feet from the mound and 80 feet from the bases. It's a smoother transition."
Many local 11- and 12-year-old baseball players already have experience from the new 50-70 distances. Local travel ball teams already play at the new distance and making the transition back to the 46-60 range for recreation ball isn't easy.
"I think it will bring more kids back from travel ball," Lampkin said. "It's something that's been on the table for a while. Dixie's the first large avenue of baseball to make that step."
The new distances will also allow base runners to lead-off and steal bases. The initial reaction to the changes are positive, Lampkin said.
"We've been trying to stick our feelers out there," he said. "The coaches are all for it."
Registration for Dixie Youth Baseball will take place at Patriots Park in February.
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