CORSICANA, TX — Nothing says summer in America like the smell of nachos wafting from the concession stand, polyester pants stained green from sliding in the grass to catch a pop fly, cleats caked with red dirt straight from the diamond and cheers from the bench as a player steels a base. Jason Kinkade has been a fan of baseball from his Little League days. He played baseball until his sophomore year in high school, and though he may have stopped playing long before graduation, he never stopped following the sport he loves.
As his son, Kolby, started playing different sports, Jason began coaching. His first time coaching was for Kolby’s soccer team. Better suited for baseball, Jason started assisting the coach of Kolby’s baseball team. Several of the kids on the team were older, and when it was time for them to move up a division, their coach left the team to Jason.
Talks of starting a select team circulated for a while before Jason decided that Kolby was ready to commit to the many extra hours and games it would entail. Several parents approached Jason about creating a team when they could not find one in the area for boys 7 to 8 years old. Jason recruited some coaches, and they began planning their entry into the select baseball circuit. They invited many whom they had coached in the past and ended up with a strong team of kids from Corsicana, Retreat, Mildred and Rice. At their first team meeting, Jason had each of the players write down three of their picks for a team name. Almost every player chose the Bulldogs as a tribute to Navarro College. The next steps for the Bulldogs were joining Super Series Baseball of America and preparing for their first round of tournaments. “The team officially formed in November of 2010,” Jason said. “We spent a lot of time practicing and becoming a team before we attempted a tournament. In April of 2011 we entered our first tournament.”
Coaching the select team is different than the city league Jason was used to handling. Instead of one practice a week, he now holds as many as he can. The league plays year-round with only a few weeks off here and there. The team also spends entire weekends
at tournaments. Luckily, Jason does not have to coach alone. He has four other coaches — Mike Beacom, Matt Thomas, Jason Gamez and Bobby Shamblin — as well as several parents who help with practice and tournaments. During practice the coaches expand on the basic fundamentals and teach strategy. They sneak in conditioning by creating fun games to keep the boys moving and prepare them for tournaments where they play back-to-back. “If it weren’t for my wife, I know that I wouldn’t be doing this,” Jason said. “The wives of all of the coaches have to sacrifice a lot for us to be gone so often. We practice a lot and then almost every weekend there’s a tournament. They are always there at every tournament, too.”
Players learn baseball fundamentals on city league teams. To level the playing field, those teams are mixed with kids who have played before and those who are new to the game. Some have been playing since they were 4 while others are beginning at 8 years old, making it hard for experienced players looking for new challenges. These veterans enjoy playing on their city team with friends,
but also look forward to challenges select team tournaments bring. “These guys are dedicated and want to play,” Jason said. “They have the drive and already know how to play. As coaches, we expect a lot out of the players, and they all work hard.”
A few of the team members had played in tournaments before through All-Stars, but consecutive tournaments are new to all of them. Tournaments begin on Saturdays and teams play two games. These games rank the teams and determine Sunday’s game order. On Sunday, they play until they lose or are the last team standing. Tournaments are a family affair, and almost all the parents are able to make it to each one. The boys enjoy traveling to the games and playing new teams from across the state. So far, they have played tournaments in Kerens, Waxahachie, McKinney, Burleson and Waco. During this first year, they do not plan to travel further than an hour away. Due to the expense of tournaments, the coaches have decided to limit the number they attend this first year, but will increase the amount as the team gets stronger. “We are looking better all of the time,” Jason said. “They face stronger competition at these tournaments, and it makes them stronger, too. I can see how they have grown with each tournament we attend.”
Spring and summer are busy for the Bulldogs. All the players serve double duty, playing on both a city league team and their select team. Several of them even face each other in games and
know how to adjust to their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Win or lose, they put it aside once they’re back on the field as Bulldogs. “When they come out to our field they might have to play a different position than they do with their city team,” Jason said. “This month when they start kid pitch, they will have to be strong in at least two different positions. We will lose some good fielders to gain pitchers.”
“I’ve already started practicing to become a pitcher,” Bulldog team member Kaegan Shamblin said. “After practice I go home and practice more. I love playing baseball, and it’s a lot of fun.”Barbara Shamblin, Kaegan’s mother, did not hesitate to sign up her son for the team. Despite the heavy costs associated with joining a select team, the education
and personalized attention that Kaegan receives from the coaches outweighs the monetary costs. “I had daughters who played softball when they were younger on select teams,” Barbara said. “They went on to play in high school, and we wanted Kaegan to have that same opportunity. It’s fun to see the kids’ talent explode when they join a team like this.”
Just as they begin to get the hang of things, the Bulldogs will be thrown new challenges this year. As this young team grows stronger, they will have the opportunity to travel further, play more tournaments and improve their game. “We are still learning how to play as a team,” Jason said. “These kids want to be here. If they didn’t, baseball would not be fun for them. As long as we are consistent, these kids will learn a lot and have a great time playing ball.”
Written by Sydni Thomas.