Sports teach kids how to be a team player, how to communicate and how to be accountable. They also cost a lot of money.
For the past several years the Gulf Coast Rays, formally Florida Rays, have been giving boys 8-years-old and younger from Destin to Panama City the chance to play America's favorite past-time. This year, the coaches are hoping to make the sport even more accessible.
"It can get expensive pretty quick," said Assistant Coach Mike Jersey. "The spring and summer season could cost anywhere between $1,200 to $1,400 for one player. The cost eliminates so many kids right away."
To help offset costs, the team is hosting a fundraiser, Jan. 18 at the Seascape Golf Club, where Jersey is the golf professional.
"The goal is to go out and fundraise so mom and dad don't have to pay so much out of pocket," Jersey said. "The more money we raise, the more opportunities."
Jersey has an evident passion for sports. He played baseball in college and assists coaching the South Walton High School baseball team. He's passed that talent on to his son Skyler, 8. He has been coaching his son's various teams since he first started playing.
"I knew early on he was going to be a little athlete," Jersey said. "He's loved playing baseball since he was born."
Jersey along with head coach Jimmy Ross and assistant coaches Russ Tommey and Wes Shelton strive to go beyond teaching the game of baseball.
"It's about life skills," Jersey said. "Players learn teamwork, accountability — owning up to mistakes, learning how to lose and learning to be humble. I've enjoyed watching these kids and see the way they get along with each other."
After coaching the Rays for a year, Jersey said he's noticed improvements in the players’ communication skills.
"When someone's up to bat, they encourage and support each other," he said. "That's pretty cool to see eight-year-old kids do that."
Even though Jersey has a passion for the sport, he understands the team is all about the young players, which is why all proceeds from the upcoming fundraiser are going straight to the boys.
"When you're looking at trying to make a difference in the world, you've got to start with the youth," Jersey said. "I truly feel good about being a part of this team."
WANT TO GO? Spend an afternoon at the Seascape golf course to raise funds for the Gulf Coast Rays travel baseball league. The event is Jan. 18 and starts with lunch at 11:15 a.m. Awards and prizes follow. A silent auction will be ongoing. Sponsor at hole for $100 or sign up a team for $300. All proceeds go toward the team. For more information, contact Assistant Coach Mike Jersey at firstname.lastname@example.org.