The League kicks off the spring season with a smorgasbord of baseball and softball.
As the Dr. Phillips Magic softball team takes the field, a sigh of relief comes from coach Lee Liddick.
Even though Dr. Phillips Little League officially kicked off its spring baseball and softball season Feb. 23, a late cancellation last Saturday kept his Magic team off the field until Monday, March 4.
But as the old saying goes, it’s better late than never, and Liddick is happy to finally get his players some time on the diamond while taking a break from the hectic schedule he has kept the last few weeks.
“It’s a whirlwind — taking care of everything, being in charge and managing is very difficult sometimes,” said Liddick, who also acts as the president of softball and registration lead. “The last two weeks was nothing but scheduling — I couldn’t focus on the team — but luckily, I have good assistant coaches who can help pick up the slack. It’s been a whirlwind, but I’m glad that it’s here.”
Liddick has been a force in terms of helping to grow the softball wing of Dr. Phillips Little League since taking over, and under his watchful eye the program has gained attention.
Since last spring, the program is up 23 girls and fielding a juniors division team (13-14 years old) for the first time since 2016.
“We gained a bunch of girls — we’ve got 12-13 rostered from minors all the way up — and last year we didn’t have that,” Liddick said. “We had just barely enough to field a team sometimes to come over here. So what we are doing so far is working, so that’s a good thing.”
Being able to provide a juniors division is huge for the softball program and even bigger for those girls looking to keep playing right up to when they start middle school.
It not only helps build fundamentals for each individual player but also helps set a solid foundation for the program. Before, the league was losing girls to Windermere Little League — which has had a juniors team.
“It makes me feel good — it makes me feel good for the girls, especially with being able to gain a juniors team,” Liddick said. “As long as the rest of these girls continue to stay with the program, they’re going to have places to go.
“If we couldn’t have fielded a juniors team, we would have had a bunch of girls who either may not have been able to play or they would have come over here and joined Windermere,” he said. “Which is good — they have a place to go — but it’s always nice to keep them in your own backyard.”
Going into Monday night’s game, Liddick said he had no real expectations for his Magic team so early in the season, especially given that he had one girl returning off of majors, while everybody else (coming off the minors team) is new to the Magic.
There’s a freshness to this year’s team, which is comprised mostly of kids ages 11 to 12, which also comes with some slight anxiousness, said 11-year-old pitcher/first baseman/catcher Richelle Ruiz.
“(I’m) a little bit nervous, but obviously the nerves go away when you’re playing,” said Ruiz, who has played her entire Little League career with DP. “We’re really just here to have fun, so there’s not really nerves going around.”
“We gained a bunch of girls — we’ve got 12-13 rostered from minors all the way up — and last year we didn’t have that. We had just barely enough to field a team sometimes to come over here. So what we are doing so far is working, so that’s a good thing.”
— Lee Liddick
Ruiz is one of the many new faces to join the Magic and a player Liddick believes will be a difference-maker for his team. She will lead the way alongside the team’s lone returner, Maille Venne — who starts at catcher for the Magic. The 12-year-old, who has been a part of the DPLL softball program for four years, has most enjoyed the learning process utilized by the organization.
“(I get) to learn without having too much pressure on winning or anything,” Venne said.
And that’s the most vital aspect of how Liddick and the other coaches in DPLL approach their respective games. Winning is fun, but at this level of baseball and softball, learning and having fun are the most important things in developing better players and people.
“As the season progresses, it’s fun to watch the girls grow and learn,” Liddick said. “That was one of the really fun things about last year. At the beginning of the year, it didn’t look very promising at all at practices. Then they got into games and started applying the things that we did in practice and looked good — they surprised us. By the end of the year, they were doing things that they needed to do, and that’s always fun to watch at this level.”