The Zak Zone

With the NFL Player's Association and the owners reaching an agreement last week and training camps and free agency already in full swing, I know that football should be the only thing on my mind. Strangely, though, the only things I can think about are baseball and softball.

Maybe, just maybe, that has something to do with the fact that I spent the entire weekend at the baseball complex watching everything from 9-and 10-year old ball players from across the region playing in a tournament to 13-and 14-year old VFW Teener League All-Stars from across the state playing in their state tournament.

First of all, I would like to take the time to congratulate Punxsy's Teener League All-Stars, who won the state title in impressive fashion over the weekend and did so in front of their home fans as they played host for the weekend.

I have long heard people say that baseball was losing its flair in the Punxsutawney area. When I was a kid, everyone played Little League baseball.

With the development of other hobbies, namely skateboarding and video games, there was a fear that kids' interest in baseball would fade away and eventually fizzle out completely.

This weekend was an encouraging reminder to me that this is not the case. In fact, it's not even close to being true.

Baseball and softball are alive and well in Punxsy. Need some proof?

Punxsy High School's baseball and softball teams each fell just a few wins short of winning state titles in June, an impressive feat for one program, let alone two in the same year.

Punxsy's Little League baseball and softball All-Star teams each played competively in their All-Star tournaments, and Punxsy was represented at the Section 1 tournament in the 10-and 11-year old baseball and softball divisions.

Punxsy's Senior Legion team made a run at its league title, falling just short to DuBois in the finals, and both of the Junior Legion All-Star teams advanced to states.

The 13- and 14-year olds already won their state title, and the 15- and 16-year olds will attempt to accomplish the same feat this weekend in Huntingdon.

Baseball is a family effort. Parents pour hours into taking their kids to practice, working the concession stand and biting their nails each time their child comes to the plate or toes the mound. This weekend was the ultimate reminder of how well a tournament can run when all involved are willing to go all-in to play host.

I spent the entire weekend at the complex covering different games, and I have never had so much trouble finding a parking space anywhere in Punxsy.

Games were being played on five different fields, and that number doesn't even take into consideration the 6- and 7-year old machine pitch tournament that was taking place at Lil' Sluggers Field at the same time.

Dozens of parents scrambled between fields and concession stands trying to accomodate as best they could for the thirty-plus teams Punxsy was hosting, often sacrificing the opportunity to see each and every at-bat by their own children.

Parents, allow me to say that you all came together to put on two of the best-run tournaments I have seen. Things ran smoothly at all fields, and if you all were tired, it didn't show in your moods. Visiting parents and players were welcomed warmly with smiles at every turn, and your time and efforts in the concession stands provided affordable, tasty food for all who chose to partake.

Baseball and softball are alive and well in Punxsy, because of an effort on the part of the entire community to keep it that way. As a baseball fan who calls Punxsutawney his hometown, I am incredibly thankful for the effort by all the coaches, parents, groundskeepers and especially the players.

Every field was a showcase of talent and sportsmanship, and the game of baseball and the town of Punxsutawney are both better for it.

Though baseball and softball seasons are nearing an end, the action's not quite over yet. Punxsy's 15- and 16-year old Teener League All-Stars will play this weekend in Huntingdon, which is a long trip for them. If you see any of the players or coaches, wish them well before they go and remind them how proud we are.

And for those who won't be making that trip, there is also another tournament in Punxsy next weekend, as the Groundhog Little League hosts its softball tournament. If you want to see a group of parents giving their all to put on a great tournament, or you want to see the best softball action that Punxsy has to offer all compacted into one weekend, this is your chance.

From a fan of the game, thanks to all who made last weekend possible, and to all who are still pouring hours into preparations for this weekend.

And, good luck to all the players who will be putting it all on the line to win a trophy this weekend. I know that you will represent Punxsutawney well.