Baseball, softball seasons very near
  

By Tim Chambers
STAR CORRESPONDENT
tchambers@starhq.com

   Snow is in the forecast for today, yet America's favorite pastime is just around the corner.
   The Elizabethton Jr. Babe Ruth is set to holds its first board meeting Sunday, Feb. 29, at 2 p.m. at Elizabethton High School.
   Babe Ruth baseball has been a part of Elizabethton since 1972. The league plans to make changes this season, which will be beneficial to both the parents and the players. Signups will be held the following weekend.
   Anyone interested in serving on the board or wanting to become a coach is urged to attend this meeting. Officers will be elected for the 2004 season. Contact Tim at 543-1387 or 773-9666 for additional information.
   The Elizabethton National and Carter County American Little Leagues are gearing up for the 2004 season. The American League will feature a new grass infield this season that should add to the beauty of the park, while the National League continues to groom its field, which by many is considered one of the nicest Little League Parks in the state.
   Softball will be in full swing at the National League Park, where signups are currently underway. Tryouts will be held Feb. 28 from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m.
   March 1 kicks off signups for pee-wee baseball and T-ball as the Elizabethton/Carter County Boys and Girls Club gear up for another season. John Malone is the new director and urges anyone who is interested in playing to signup for an exciting season.
   I encourage each and everyone to support the youth of Carter County that participate in these and all sports.
   High School Baseball
   Happy Valley appears to be the frontrunner as baseball talk is buzzing among area sports fans. Warrior pitching should be strong, with Ryan Toney, Todd Caldwell, Ryan Garland, Shannon Buchanan and Tim Whaley back to challenge for the Watauga Conference crown.
   Buchanan provides Coach Greg Hyder one of the best defensive catchers in this area, and Ricky Morgan will be a vital cog in the infield.
   Hyder could face the same problem as Unaka, with several key players being members of the Warrior basketball team. An early exit appears unlikely for the Bayless boys this season.
   Elizabethton will be much-improved after playing with several underclassmen last season. Travis Bowers, Zack Stipe, Nat Treadway, Charles Peters and Ricky Garrison were members the two-time all-star state championship Babe Ruth team that advanced to the Southeast Regional. This should add depth to the Cyclone roster along with Ryan Kennedy and other promising players.
   With basketball season completed, Hampton can get an early jump on baseball. Adam Miller returns, as does Eric Swain, giving coach Scotty Bunton two proven arms on the mound.
   Bunton usually gets the most out of his talent, so expect no pushover when the Bulldogs come to town.
   As the case with football and basketball, Cloudland will rely on Mark Byrd to bolster its baseball team. Byrd is a remarkable talent with a strong arm and good range in center field. He possesses a strong bat for the blue and gold.
   Basketball could pose a problem as some baseball players may be delayed, as the Highlander roundballers hope to advance to the state tournament after racking up 21 wins and counting on the season.
   Unaka hopes it can return to Memphis after making the schools first state tournament appearance last season. With three proven starters on the mound in the likes of Randy Swearingen, Tee Blevins and Daniel McInturff, the Rangers will be a contender throughout the season.
   The middle infield of shortstop Chad Lewis and second baseman Rusty Chambers is considered one of the best in East Tennessee. Both hit over .500 last season while providing some dazzling plays in the infield. They can also pitch when called upon. Brent Huskins returns as a proven catcher.
   Starters Cody Collins, Tyler McCann, Blevins and Chambers will get a late start due to basketball. The Ranger hoopsters have a good chance of advancing deep into the postseason.
   Coach Mike "Acie" Ensor has faced this problem for the past several seasons, but somehow seems to get those players ready early in the season. Look for Jon Minton, former Unaka and King College standout player, to add to an already solid coaching staff.
   Region 1-A Basketball Tournament: Directions to Hancock County High School
   Take 23 to Kingsport and get off on the West Stone Drive Exit. Go to the red-light and turn left off exit ramp. Travel 11 W until you go about 11 miles outside of Rogersville.
   At the BP Station on the right you will see a sign that reads Hwy 31 Sneedville. Travel about 18 miles until you come into the town of Sneedville.
   Continue down Main Street about one mile outside of town. This will take you to the high school.
   Allow yourself about two hours of driving time.