Palm Coast, FL – Hitting a home run with families across Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis made a trip to Palm Coast on Friday to throw the first pitch for the Little League Baseball State Tournament taking place from July 16-18 at the Indian Trails Sports Complex.
Adding a lunch stop at Knuckle Sandwich Sub Shop and an impromptu visit to the Community Cats of Palm Coast’s new thrift store location on US 1, families waited with great anticipation at the ball fields for the arrival of DeSantis to kick off the opening ceremonies at 3 pm.
The Vision Yields Returns on Investment
Arriving early, the governor spent time talking with the players taking part in the tournament as local dignitaries observed from the periphery.
Acting Palm Coast Mayor Ed Branquinho and former Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland relaxed in the dugout watching the excitement with a sense of pride.
“This is the future and I want to be part of the future of these kids if I can,” said Branquinho, committed to the success of Palm Coast’s future generations.
“They’re the reason I’m here. If I can do anything to make sure these kids make it to the big leagues, I will help in any way, shape or form I can,” he said, giving a nod to the city employees behind the scenes who helped prepare for the big weekend.
“I think we have right now, probably one of the best parks and recreation departments in the entire state,” said Brahquinho.
Holland was pleased to see the results of collaborative partnerships over the past decade paying off in such a significant way.
“It’s an incredible day. We fought for the expansion of these fields in order to gain this competitive advantage to bring a state tournament here,” she said.
“We love that fact that Palm Coast Little League has invested so much in our community over the years. They’re incredible and provide such an incredible amount of volunteerism, giving back to the next generation, structure, positivity – everything you love about our community is reflected here today,” said Holland.
Stated Significance: Palm Coast Is On the Map
Teams headed in from across the state from as far away as Merritt Island, Dr. Phillips, Northeast, Chaires, Ft. Lauderdale, Tampa Bay, Martin County North, and Sarasota, to take part in the state tournament.
Taking photos with each team, the governor’s staff offered athletes and coaches a personally signed baseball, while reminiscing about his days playing Little League and making it to the Little League Baseball World Series in 1990.
“My Little League team won the state championship, the tournament was in Lantana. We won, went to the southern regional, won that, and then went to Willamsport, so that’s exactly what these kids are trying to do,” he said.
Sarasota Coach Matt Snelson saw it as a once in a lifetime opportunity to motivate and inspire his players by allowing them to hear firsthand about the governor’s own experience in Little League.
“It was great. The kids had heard rumors about it so I wanted him to tell them the story and what did he do. It’s a good story for them to have,” shared Snelson. “It makes them want to go to Williamsport.”
With a love of the game it was DeSantis’ third appearance on the Indian Trails ball fields for Little League. Joining players twice while serving as the U.S. Congressman representing Palm Coast before becoming governor, DeSantis was happy to be back the in the grassroots community to help the with opening ceremonies.
“It’s great. They have great community spirit, and so many of the folks volunteering to put this on honestly that’s what I would expect from this area because I know there’s a lot of good folks here. I think that the tournament’s going to be really great,” said DeSantis.
It’s a Home Run
The community was thrilled to spotlight the sports complex while having one of the nation’s most popular governors in the area for opening day, including baseball mom and Little League board member Jennifer Katz.
“We had a lot of people put in a lot of work to make this tournament happen,” she said.
“The governor being here was the cherry on top. These kids and families will forever remember our little town as the town they met the governor in. He was a treat for everyone involved. We’re so grateful that he was able to make it. His people are fantastic and so easy to work with. We could not be happier with the way everything worked out,” said Katz.
Peter Schoembs, President of Palm Coast Little League agreed, and was grateful for the governor’s accessibility for the families and players, who eagerly posed for photos with DeSantis.
“This is the biggest thrill to have him here right now,” said Schoembs. “He’s just walking around shaking hands, this is fantastic. It’s just a dream come true for everybody here.”
Snapping a photo with the governor before taking the field, softball mom and radio personality Laura Z was on hand to help emcee the opening ceremonies. Traveling with her own daughters for softball, it was a chance to showcase the quality facilities and fields in her own backyard.
“They are so well maintained. You can tell that the City of Palm Coast, they really put so much into the fields here. A lot of people, they look toward Palm Coast as being some of the best fields in the state. And from a mom perspective we’ve got it all – there’s a playground if you’ve got little ones to keep the kids busy, the bathrooms, the concessions, everything is right here, and it’s top of the line,” said Zublionis.
It was a special moment for longtime member of the city’s parks and recreation team, Lauren Johnston, Chief of Staff for Citizen Engagement.
“It gives me chills. These kids are going to remember this for a lifetime. To see these fields come together and see our council invest in recreation opportunities for the youth, this is economic impact and a lot of local families here to support,” said Johnston.
Since joining Little League in 1961 at the age of 18 in Stanton Island, New York, Fred Lewis has seen it all. He declared Friday as a banner day for the sport and more importantly, the kids.
“My old coach said we need you to take this team until we can get somebody else,” said Lewis of joining up decades ago. “Needless to say, I’m still with it. I love doing it, because of the kids. (Today is) very exciting, especially with the governor attending. That’s a big deal.”
Matanzas High School Class of 2021 graduate Lauren Januszkiewicz performed the National Anthem, while Sadie Schnell and Emily Warren, state representatives of Palm Coast Little League Softball for three consecutive years were on the receiving end of Governor DeSantis’ opening pitches.
Eight teams are playing in the Florida state finals this weekend in Palm Coast, with the winner advancing to regional competition in Georgia. The winner of the regional tournament advances to the Little League Baseball World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, August 19-29, 2021.
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