Mountain Recreation kicks off summer with Opening Day for baseball, softball
The rec district is celebrating the first games of the season Saturday with activities, food and more
For many years, Mountain Recreation has kicked off the summer with an Opening Day celebration for its baseball, softball and T-ball leagues. This Saturday, at the Eagle Sports Complex, over 1,500 people are expected to attend the kickoff and usher in the summer season of athletics for the rec district.
“Baseball is America’s favorite pastime and kickoff celebrates everything about that: the opening ceremonies, the hot dogs, the small-town spirit, and this incredible game,” said Becca Leeper, one of Mountain Rec’s baseball coaches.
What: Opening Day 2022
Where: Eagle Sports Complex (1400 Fairgrounds Rd, Gypsum)
When: Saturday, June 18 starting at 9 a.m.
The day will feature games, family activities, ninja courses, bouncy castles, food, music and more.
Mountain Rec started the Opening Day event when it realized how many family and community members joined the district for the first weekend of games. Lizzy Owens, the district’s community engagement manager, said the event gives the district a chance to “kick off to summer” and give the parents and families other activities so they can stay for the day and enjoy the start of the season.
“Everyone is in town and what’s more of a summer celebration than baseball?” Owens said.
The day will kick off around 9 a.m. on Saturday with a singing of the national anthem and a chance for each team to run 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 now, but started his own baseball career with the then-WECMRD program — this tunnel represents all that is great about the whole baseball, softball and T-ball season.
“They get to run through a tunnel, see all the other teams, and be part of something bigger than their own team. It is a great way to kick off the season,” Wilmers said.
“Baseball is a game of life, what you learn on the field — sportsmanship, being a team player, supporting your peers, improving athletic abilities, and being respectful — all carries over to real life; the skills you learn in baseball help you with school, work, friendships and family relationships. As a coach I take it seriously that what I pour into the kiddos may have an effect on them throughout their entire lives,” he added.
Following the initial tunnel run, there will be a number of activities throughout the day for players and families — including free food for all guests, the painting of a community mural, bouncy houses, face painting, ninja courses, music, speed pitch as well as a number of local vendors such as the police department, local firefighters, Mountain Youth, Fossil Posse, Eagle County Animal Shelter and more.
Over the past few 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, the district had 568 young athletes sign up for baseball compared to 522 last year, 427 in 2020, and 476 in 2019. While this shows a slight drop off during COVID-19, she added, this year is the “highest we’ve ever been.”
It’s also the first year the district is offering T-ball for 3- and 4-year-olds.
This growth not only parallels the growth of the Eagle River Valley but also shows a growing appreciation for what these sports can bring to kids, Owens said.
“I think (parents) recognize the importance of teamwork and the lessons that kids learn on team sports and it’s fun. It’s how friendships are made — both through the children and through the parents talking on the sidelines. I think people have just seen how much fun kids are having and keeping their kids happy, healthy and engaged,” she said.
Even in Eagle County, where the outdoor recreation opportunities are abundant, Owens noted the unique opportunity that baseball, softball, and T-ball offers.
“Giving them a chance to learn baseball — it’s a foundational 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 that Wilmers experienced firsthand growing up playing baseball for WECMRD as well as at Eagle Valley High School. For him, now coaching for Mountain Rec gives him the opportunity to “give back to the community I grew up in and live in, and be a positive part of a program I myself participated in as a youth.”
Wilmers currently coaches coach pitch and T-ball for the district and loves sharing the fundamentals with young kids.
“Learning the proper basic fundamentals at the T-ball level carries all the way through a player’s career: to high school, college, and beyond. It starts at the beginning, and setting them up for success is a major factor at this level,” he said.
Opening Day celebrates all this and more, giving the players and families a chance to kickoff the season with community, activities and more.
Reporter Ali Longwell can be reached at email@example.com.