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Whidbey Crabs set to repair Mackie Park and begin season
Spring is in the air, even if snow is, too.
On the South End, baseball season draws near. This baseball season, a new team will represent South Whidbey.
Meet the Whidbey Crabs.
The Crabs spent the past seven months preparing and are ready to play.
“I’m excited for it,” said Chris Kesler, Crabs head coach. “You don’t know how it’s going to pan out on the field. You hope for the best for these boys.”
The Pony League team is set to begin its first season as part of the Mountlake Terrace Youth Athletic Association. The MTYAA operates a Pony League of teams from around Snohomish County, and now Island County. The Crabs, a team of a dozen 13- and 14-year-olds, begin their season in March and play into June.
The Crabs have been through a bit of a journey to get where they are now.
In July of 2010, the South Whidbey Little League season was over and boys still wanted to play baseball. Crabs general manager and founder Dennis Hunter contacted MTYAA about getting some South Whidbey boys on a Pony League team.
Hunter invited Jeff Lane to South Whidbey to see some of the SWLL All-Stars go through some drills. Lane was impressed with the level and amount of talent, and said he thought there was enough of both for Whidbey Island to have its own Pony League team.
The MTYAA then offered Hunter the opportunity to assemble a team of at least 10 players, who had to pay half of a $400 registration fee within a week to register for this upcoming season. A dozen players were registered in time, thanks to the quick decision and financial commitment by their parents.
Finding a field was a challenge. The Crabs chose Dave Mackie Park as their home field, once it’s modified and repaired.
The baseball diamond is far from ready for a regulation game. Earlier in February, the coaches and players prepared the infield with $4,000 in topsoil. The backstop needs to be replaced, the outfield needs to be patched up and leveled and dugouts need to be made.
An old wooden grandstand remains, and Hunter called it a fixture of the field and plans to repair it rather than bring in metal bleachers.
“It’s an old jewel of a baseball field,” Hunter said. “It’s kind of gone to shambles in the last 10 or 15 years.”
The field is ideal for the Crabs, who won’t have scheduling conflicts with South Whidbey Little League. The baseball and softball fields at South Whidbey Community Park and Dan Porter Park are used by the Little League.
Mackie Park also fits into Hunter and Kesler’s goals to teach the players about leadership and responsibility. The players raised funds for uniforms and team sponsors for travel. They are also working on improving and maintaining the field. Kesler said the older boys may never play on the field at Mackie Park, at least as Crabs.
Hunter proposed a completion date in 2011, but doubted it would be ready for this season. He said he wants to play the final games at Mackie Park this season.
“To see that field rise out of the ashes would just be special,” Hunter said.
Hunter and Kesler each have a son playing for the Crabs. Both dads said they wanted a Pony League team for the smaller field to ease the players from 60-foot base paths in majors to 90-foot base paths in juniors in Little League. Pony League fields use 80-foot base paths and have smaller fields.
Debbie Holbert, SWLL president, said she wasn’t worried about losing the group of 13- and 14-year-olds. Her one concern was having too many players in the junior division for one team, and not enough for two teams.
SWLL planned to hold tryouts on Saturday, Feb. 26, weather permitting. Last season, SWLL had two junior division teams. She estimated having enough players to field one team this season.
“We don’t have a problem with it,” Holbert said. “We wish them well.”
The Crabs begin their season in March. For now, they use Mackie Park for infield practice, work out in the South Whidbey High School gym and use the field when they can.
There’s more fundraising to be done for uniforms, weekly travel to Mountlake Terrace and any tournaments they may travel to.
“You try not to make more work for the parents,” Kesler said.
“The fundraising aspect is scary,” Kesler added. “If you’re going to take that on, you’ve got to put yourself out there.”
With a team name like the Crabs, it seems they already put themselves out there. Hunter explained the name fit because of the popularity of crabbing during the spring and summer on Whidbey Island. His coach agreed.
“I like the name,” Kesler said. “It’s unique and it fits.”
One of the goals the team’s managers have is to get these Crabs out of their shells, or at least be comfortable in it. Part of the Whidbey Island Baseball Club’s mission statement is to “teach the players the difference between who they think they are and what their actions say they are.”
“With baseball you can’t just flip a switch,” Kesler said. “It takes practice and dedication.”
Kesler added: “It’s not hard to draw parallels between the game, the sport and life.”
The Crabs play over town on Wednesdays and will have double-headers on Sundays at South Whidbey Community Park. They are still seeking sponsors, fundraising opportunities and assistance with field repairs. Hunter can be reached at 341-2697.