LAKEWOOD RANCH — Twelve-year-old Amanda Kessler was at a loss for words when she first heard the news last month.
But after the initial shock wore off, the Haile Middle School seventh-grader couldn’t contain her excitement.
Neither could her teammate Emily Fernandez, 12, who immediately began screaming and jumping up and down with the rest of her new Miss Manatee 12U softball family.
It was the first day of practice, and the girls had just learned that this season they were going to be sponsored by The East County Observer.
“We were all screaming,” Fernandez said. “Now that we’re (sponsored) by the newspaper, other girls … they can see what softball looks like and how much fun we have. And hopefully, we’ll be able to get more kids playing.”
The surprise was a welcome one for both the players and head coach Buddy Yawn.
“I really didn’t know until I think the day before Opening Day,” Yawn said. “It’s nice to see a new name (sponsoring) the league. They were all very excited when I told them.”
The Observer team, which features 11 players, opened its 2010 spring season with a 13-1 victory over Hyatt Survey March 2. It was an impressive start for a team that had only been practicing together for two weeks.
“I was impressed and a little surprised,” Yawn said of the win. “They put the bat on the ball and made the plays that they needed to make. I think it was a nice uplifting game for them.”
Since then, the girls have improved their record to 3-0 with an 11-6 victory over Grainger Farms March 4 and an 8-6 come-from-behind victory over Ball & Shoe Sports Center March 9.
The Observer team is unique in that it has players of varying skill levels, including four players who play travel ball as well as a handful of girls who have never played the game before. Although adjusting to new teammates can be challenging at times, the girls appear to have handled the transition with ease.
“We really have a good team this year, so it’s going to be exciting to see other teams and play for bragging rights at school,” Kessler said. “We’re basically just like one big family all working toward the same goal.”
“Recreational softball is all about learning how to play softball and developing their skills,” Yawn said. “At this age they’re only a few years away from high school, and a lot of them want to end up on the (high school) field.
“They’ve got a lot of growing up to do, but they seem to know each other pretty well,” he said. “It’s challenging to some degree, but it’s always rewarding to see them develop to some degree.”
The girls will play eight more games before getting ready for the playoffs. The team currently sits atop the 12U standings with a half-game lead over Beef O’Brady’s.
For more information on Miss Manatee Softball, visit the league’s Web site at www.missmanateesoftball.org.
Contact Jen Blanco at [email protected].