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Mississippi Bound
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Updated: 07/31/2013 08:00:16AM

Mississippi Bound

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Larry Jewett

The state championship T-shirt.


PJ Sloan hit the game-winning home run against Brooksville Thursday, July 11 that gave Bartow the state championship in the Dixie Youth Baseball League. They won the game 5-3 in DeSoto County.

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The Bartow Dixie Youth Baseball Majors team, the reigning Florida state champions, are set to embark on their longest road trip of the season. This is the next step in their season-long goal. The destination is Laurel, Miss., the home of the 2013 Dixie Youth Baseball World Series.

For some, it’s the second consecutive year of World Series competition, but a much different experience this time around. Having slept in their own beds and playing on their home fields last year, the team will head into unfamiliar territory, just like 10 other teams from throughout the Southeast.

The first families will likely head out on their trip of more than 800 miles one-way sometime today. The last groups will be leaving Polk County sometime tomorrow. They will connect at their hotel in Hattiesburg, Miss., a short drive from Laurel.

Earlier this week, it was the last round of practice before saying goodbye to Bartow. They recently received their uniforms with “Florida” across the chest. It is becoming very real.

“We’ll have opening ceremonies on Friday,” said manager John Marc Tamayo. “We’ll have a quick practice on Saturday morning and then drive down to play our first game at 5:30.”

Little is known about the opponent that the Florida champs will face. The team from Texarkana West will be representing Arkansas. While Bartow has had the Florida title for a few weeks, Texarkana West got their crown a week ago, winning in their home city. No matter when they got there, these teams serve as worthy representatives of their respective states.

“They’re anxious,” said Tamayo. “They are ready to play again. We’ve only been able to scrimmage each other since winning the state tournament. They want to get back into competition.”

The drive to the World Series signals the end of the period where baseball play was sidetracked by car washes and fundraisers, necessary evils to enjoy the full fruits of victory. The team came close to its stated goal in generating the money necessary and the organization will gladly accept additional donations to help defray the expenses. Parents and family members will dig deeper to make sure the experience is the best possible for the youngsters.

“We appreciate all of the help and support we have gotten and continue to get,” said Tamayo. “The kids really appreciate everything that everyone has done.”

Additional support will be coming from Bartow radio station 1130 WWBF. A team of broadcasters will make the trip to Mississippi to relay the Bartow games back to the listening audience. The station also carried the action from the state tournament for fans who couldn’t make the 50-mile trip.

Those who were involved in the 2012 Dixie World Series can fondly remember what took place in the time when the local organization hosted the event. One can imagine what must be going on as final preparations are being made elsewhere. Having the Florida state champions come from Bartow is just another source of civic pride and evidence that youth sports builds community.

Critics say journalists are supposed to be unbiased, but the neutrality will be saved for another time. This is one writer who will be glued to the radio Saturday afternoon. That lawn can wait. The Florida state champions from Bartow are trying to win a World Series.

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