Mountain Recreation kicks off summer time with Opening Day for baseball, softball

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To kick off Mountain Recreation’s baseball, softball and t-ball season, all teams have the opportunity to run through a tunnel, cheered on by thousands of community members and fans.
Mountain Rec/Photo courtesy

For many years, Mountain Recreation has kicked off summer with an Inaugural Day celebration for its baseball, softball, and t-ball leagues. Over 1,500 people are expected this Saturday at the Eagle Sports Complex to attend the kickoff and usher in the summer athletics season for the recreation district.

“Baseball is America’s favorite pastime, and Kickoff celebrates everything about it: the opening ceremonies, the hot dogs, the small town spirit and this incredible game,” said Becca Leeper, one of Mountain Rec’s baseball coaches.

Mountain Rec kicked off the opening day event when it saw how many family and community members were joining the district for the first weekend of play. Lizzy Owens, the district’s community engagement manager, said the event gives the district a chance to “start the summer” and offer other activities for parents and families to stay in the day and enjoy the start of the season.

“Everybody’s in town and what’s more of a summer festival than baseball?” said Owens.

Players from Mountain Recreation’s baseball, softball and t-ball leagues will all play their first games of the season beginning Saturday, March 18.
Mountain Rec/Photo courtesy

The day begins around 9am on Saturday with the singing of the national anthem and a chance for each team to walk through a tunnel of fans, families, other teams and community members.

For Craig Wilmers – who has not only coached for Mountain Rec for 10 years, but also started his own baseball career with what was then the WECMRD program – this tunnel represents everything that is great about the entire baseball, softball and t-ball season.

“They can run through a tunnel, see all the other teams and be part of something bigger than their own team. It’s a great start to the season,” said Wilmers.

“Baseball is a game of life, what you learn on the field – sportsmanship, being a team player, supporting your colleagues, improving your athletic skills and being respectful – all of that carries over into real life; The skills you learn in baseball will help you in school, at work, in friendships, and in family relationships. As a coach, I take it seriously that what I put into children can have an impact on them throughout their lives,” he added.

After the first tunnel ride there will be a range of activities for players and families throughout the day – including free food for all guests, painting a community mural, bouncy castles, face painting, ninja classes, music and also speed pitch as well as a number of local ones Vendors like the police, local firefighters, Mountain Youth, Fossil Posse, Eagle County Animal Shelter and more.

Players, families, and community members can enjoy a variety of activities at the opening day celebration.
Mountain Rec/Photo courtesy

In recent years, Mountain Rec has seen a significant increase in demand for its adult and youth sports — and these baseball, softball, and t-ball teams are no exception.

According to Owens, 568 young athletes signed up for baseball in the district, compared to 522 last year, 427 in 2020 and 476 in 2019. While that shows a slight decrease during COVID-19, she added, this year is the ” the highest we’ve ever been.”

It is also the first year the district has offered T-Ball for 3- and 4-year-olds.

This growth not only matches the growth of the Eagle River Valley, but also demonstrates a growing appreciation for what these sports can bring to children, Owens said.

“I think (parents) recognize the importance of teamwork and the lessons kids learn in team sports and it’s fun. This is how friendships develop – both through the children and through the conversations of the parents on the sidelines. I think people just saw how much fun kids have and keep their kids happy, healthy and engaged,” she said.

Even in Eagle County, where outdoor recreational opportunities abound, Owens noted the unique opportunity that baseball, softball and t-ball present.

Mountain Recreation has seen growth across all of its adult and youth sports — including its baseball, softball, and t-ball programs — in recent years.
Mountain Rec/Photo courtesy

“Giving them a chance to learn baseball — it’s a fundamental sport, they can play it into adulthood, and so many parents have fond memories of playing baseball themselves when they were younger,” Owens said.

This is something Wilmers experienced firsthand while playing baseball for WECMRD and at Eagle Valley High School. For him, coaching for Mountain Rec now gives him the opportunity to “give back to the community I grew up and live in and be a positive part of a program that I participated in myself growing up.”

Wilmers currently coaches Coach Pitch and T-Ball for the district and loves sharing the basics with young children.

“Learning the right basics at the T-ball level carries through a player’s entire career: through high school, through college, and beyond. It starts at the beginning, and it’s an important factor at that level to make them succeed,” he said.

Opening Day celebrates all of this and more, giving players and families a chance to start the season with community, activities and more.