NEWARK - Lightning was the only thing that could put a momentary halt to a full night of baseball Tuesday at Don Edwards Park.
Still, the Athletics 14U were patiently waiting their turn, taking the field at 9:30 p.m. The four diamonds at Don Edwards Park are in high demand, illustrating the abundance of opportunities for Licking County's developing players.
"In the past, we have used Moose and Eagles fields, but for our age group, coming here has been absolutely fantastic," Athletics 14U coach Troy Crouch said. "In the past, we have played 40 or 50 games, and they have all been away. Having this field here and the more tournaments they have on the weekends, the more we can get involved and give back to the community. It's great for the parents and grandparents, too."
Athletics Baseball has been the gold standard for travel organizations in Licking County, but the area has plenty of talent to fill a number of teams. The Licking County Settlers a year ago and Fearless in the Zone this year are filling in the gaps. Don Edwards also continues to host a middle school league
Licking County Settlers 14U player Gavyn Fulk (right) makes it safely to second during Tuesday night's game against the Ohio Independence on Tuesday night at Don Edwards in Newark. Sara C. Tobias, Sara C. Tobias/The Advocate
Two years ago, Scott McLaughlin coached his son Brandon's Newark Optometry team to the Licking County Shrine Tournament championship. Now, he is coaching Brandon and his North Newark teammates Ian Roe and Matthew Labuda on the Settlers 14U.
"The Settlers' goal, speaking from my end, is developing the kids from 8U all the way up and be competitive with all of the other travel organizations," said Scott McLaughlin, whose team wraps up its season the final weekend in June, hosting the Ohio World Series at Don Edwards Park.
"Our team has five or six kids that just finished high school ball. They are in better shape and have had a lot more practice. That's a good thing."
The Settlers have 8U through 17U teams. Most play in the Central Ohio Youth Baseball League during the week and travel across Ohio for tournaments on the weekend.
It is a model FITZ, which is located on S. 21st in Newark, is following. FITZ has 11U, 13U, 14U, 15U and 17U teams.
"We are pulling some talent from across the county and giving kids an opportunity to play," FITZ 14U coach Zach Dickson said. "The summer is definitely about development, and I think that gets overlooked with the winning aspect. Being able to give these kids more at-bats, more reps on defense, it just helps them out going forward and playing with their school team."
Dickson's 14U team has received good contributions this summer from Newark's Aidan Heinze, Licking Valley's Cole Porter and Joe Perkins and Groveport's Jamel Mitchell. FITZ 14U won the Scioto Sluggers Tournament in Dublin in late May and is looking forward to playing in the North Coast Elite in Canton this weekend.
Trevor Mye, the coach of the 13U, Dickson and Julian Williams, the coach of the 15U, all were standout players on Newark's Division I district runner-up team in 2015.
"Not being dads and having been within the program helps us a lot," Dickson said. "We have had some opportunities to play high school baseball in good situations and college baseball. The biggest thing I have learned from teaching these kids this summer is I can help them a whole lot."
Crouch said he enjoys watching the blend of players drawn to the Athletics organization develop into a cohesive unit. They play in the Cincinnati Flames tournament this weekend, an event won by the Athletics 17U earlier in the month.
Joining Crouch's son Carsyn, a Granville student, Johnstown's Gavin Foe, Heath's Jaden Moore and Valley's Camo Parmer are among those to climb the Athletics ladder.
"We have 10 kids on our team, so they all play a lot and are really ready when we are done with our season and go back into high school ball," Troy Crouch said. "This also builds those relationships outside of the schools. This creates those friendships so when they do play each other you see them smiling at each other and they are talking. That's the best."