‘Spiking fast’: Youth baseball registrations exceed expectations

Players are shown in action at Majestic Park in July 2022 during the FASA National Championship. - File photo by The Sentinel-Record
Players are shown in action at Majestic Park in July 2022 during the FASA National Championship. - File photo by The Sentinel-Record

Youth baseball sign-ups are already exceeding expectations, according to Majestic Park General Manager Derek Phillips.

Following the first week of the sign-up period, there were 120 children who were registered, but as of Wednesday morning, the ninth day of registration, there were 204 registered to play.

"It's been spiking fast, which kind of scares me," Phillips said. "I'm not used to that. People usually sign up at the very end. Registration doesn't end till Feb. 12, so wow. That's a good thing, though."

Historically, sign-ups for youth sports see their largest increase in the final days of the period, so Phillips believes the number will exceed last year's registrations of 508.

"I would be shocked with what we have now, with this much time before it ends, if we're not over the 508 number we had last year, and honestly, I would think we'd be over by 50 to 100," he said.

Visit Hot Springs CEO Steve Arrison said he is excited to see how baseball has returned to the community.

"We anticipated that bringing baseball back would be very successful, but I think it's exceeded our expectations for sure," he said. "I think the success we had in the first year is definitely -- I think the word has spread about the quality of the league, the quality of the facility. So I think that's definitely helped it. But it's been a big gap in Hot Springs without youth baseball, and now it's back and we're just excited about it."

Phillips said there is no cap on the number of children who can sign up for the program.

"I would never cap it in mid-stride," he said. "If we took in, say, 700 or 750 kids, I would do my best and make it work, and then next year, look at it and go, 'Hey, we've got to do something different.'"

Arrison said he often gets comments about the baseball and softball that are played at Majestic Park.

"I get stopped and comments all the time from people that just tell us how much their children enjoy playing over there, softball and baseball, and just how they're glad to have such a facility in our community," he said. "I think it's definitely added to our quality of life in Hot Springs."

One idea for how to deal with a massive influx of participants is to increase the nights games are played.

"We've kind of promised people certain things, like we're gonna play on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5:30 and 7 (p.m.), on average," Phillips said.

"People have to get off work and have to get the kids in bed, so we have to keep it in that time frame. As we and if we grow that much, we would start looking at doing some games on Wednesdays and Fridays, if we had to grow that way."

Weekends are not available for the youth league due to tournaments being held from February through July.

"We have a tournament every weekend starting Feb. 25 through the end of July," Phillips said. "The only weekend off is Easter weekend as of right now. And we're probably going to fill it with a tournament that plays Saturday only."

Another option Phillips is considering is using the old Boys & Girls Club turf pad to create an additional field for the younger players.

"We got a grant through the (Arkansas) Community Foundation to fence in the old turf pad that was already there from the Boys & Girls Club," he said. "That was like the only thing they left from that site was the old pad that they had poured of turf, and we fenced that in completely.

"We've got some temporary fencing. My first option before I expanded on my nights on Wednesdays, and Fridays would be making an additional field on that field and do a handful of games on it. I could do T-ball and maybe 7- and 8-year-olds on there pretty easy," Phillips said.

Arrison said the influx of registrations foreshadows what he believes will be another successful youth baseball season at the park.

"I'm really excited at the way that baseball has come back in Hot Springs," he said. "I mean, it's great that the early registration numbers (are high) because usually people register at the last minute, so I think this looks like we're gonna have a great second season at Majestic Park."