Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Baseball changed this boy's life

Zachary Patterson, 12, throws to a coach at the Azalea Little League field in St. Petersburg. He placed first in the Tampa Bay region in the Diamonds in the Rough competition for his essay about how playing baseball helped him overcome taunting at school.

MICHAEL MAHARREY | Times

Zachary Patterson, 12, throws to a coach at the Azalea Little League field in St. Petersburg. He placed first in the Tampa Bay region in the Diamonds in the Rough competition for his essay about how playing baseball helped him overcome taunting at school.

ST. PETERSBURG — Laughter drifted across the dusty baseball diamond as Zachary Patterson tossed the ball back and forth with a coach. Joy lit up his face, even in the bright afternoon sun.

Baseball has not only provided Zachary with fun times that will one day become fond childhood memories, but life lessons that make him wise beyond his 12 years.

Now his wisdom has translated to much-needed financial help for the cash-strapped Azalea Little League.

Zachary placed first in the Tampa Bay region in the Briggs and Stratton Diamonds in the Rough competition, winning $5,000 and lawn equipment for his league.

The victory earned him the opportunity to compete against 19 other regional winners for another $5,000 prize and a trip for four to watch the Yankees play in their final season at Yankee Stadium.

Online voting will determine the final winner.

Baseball players ranging from 7 to 14 wrote essays explaining how baseball helped them find the "power within" to overcome challenges on or off the field. Entrants came from within 30 miles of 20 select cities, including Tampa.

Zachary wrote about how kids at the military school he attends used to make fun of him, calling him a nerd and a dork. He said playing baseball gave him the confidence to deal with the taunting.

"Our coach, Joel, always says, 'We have to have confidence in ourselves before we have confidence on the field.' Wow, was he right. After playing baseball for a few years I have come to realize that kids made fun of me because I wasn't confident in myself. I ignored what others said but continued to be respectful to them," he wrote.

The seventh-grader at Admiral Farragut Academy said kids teased him because he's smart, but the confidence he gained on the baseball field taught him to be proud of all of his accomplishments, and that confidence changed his relationship with his classmates.

"Instead of people making fun of me, they are friends with me now. Everything has changed," he said.

Natasha Patterson said she has seen the transformation in her son.

"Now he is willing to try things that he wanted to do but wouldn't because he was picked on," she said. "He's really come out of his shell. Now he's proud of himself academically and strives to do better."

Zachary gets to help decide how the league will use the $5,000 prize money. He said it needs a new tractor for field maintenance, clay to fill in holes in the diamonds, and chalk for lining the playing area.

If he wins the grand prize, he wants the league to install a handicapped-accessible water fountain.

"That way not just regular players can get a drink, but Challenger players, too," he said.

Azalea is one of only two Little League organizations in Pinellas County to feature a Challenger division. More than 100 special-needs children participate in the program, and one of Azalea's fields consists of a special rubber surface that allows kids to play baseball from wheelchairs.

Dana Hess, the league's treasurer, said the prize money couldn't have come at a better time.

Azalea's fields were built in 1969, and all of the structures and fences are original.

"We really need the money. We maintain what we can as good as we can, but everything is so old," Hess said.

But for those involved with the league, the excitement is not just about money.

"To have someone so young to write something from the heart really means a lot," Carol Vallee, a league volunteer and past president, said. "This is a well-deserved honor for him."

Zachary's mother said she hopes area residents will go online and vote for him, not only for his benefit but because of the good the prize money will do for the league.

"Voting for Zach not only helps children here and now; it will help children in the future," she said.

Voting began March 26 and continues through April 20.

Michael Maharrey can be reached at (727) 893-8779 or mmaharrey@sptimes.com.

. Fast facts

To read and vote

To read Zachary Patterson's essay and to cast a vote, visit briggsdiamondsintherough.com.

Baseball changed this boy's life 04/05/08 [Last modified: Thursday, April 10, 2008 11:16am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays morning after:Matt Andriese trying to put good finish on injury-marred season

    Blogs

    RHP Matt Andriese can't make up for the 2 1/2 months he missed due to a hip injury this season after getting off to a solid 5-1, 3.54 start.

    But he can use his last few outings to remind the Rays, and himself, of how good he can be.
    He did it the hard way Thursday, allowing three runs as four of the …

  2. Trigaux: Tampa Bay household income tops $50,000 but still makes us look poor

    Personal Finance

    The good news is Tampa Bay's median household income finally crawled above $50,000 last year. The bad news is that figure — officially $51,115 by new U.S. Census Bureau data — still puts the Tampa Bay region as the poorest of the nation's 25 largest metro areas.

    Tampa Bay still has the lowest median household income among the 25 most populous metro areas, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.
[Times]
  3. Florida education news: Makeup days, accountability, charter schools and more

    Blogs

    MAKEUP DAYS: The Pasco County school district alters the daily schedule of 11 schools to make up teaching time missed because of Hurricane Irma, avoiding the …

    With students back in school after Hurricane Irma, schools across Florida begin scheduling makeup days for missed classroom time.
  4. How visiting a scenic Cuban resort can help save green sea turtles

    Wildlife

    The Florida Aquarium has been collaborating with Cuba's National Aquarium since 2015 to help save coral dying throughout Caribbean waters.

    The beaches of Cuba's Cayo Largo are home to a large population of green sea turtle nests. The Florida Aquarium will lead eco-tours of Cayo Largo next year that will help protect the turtles and fund research.  [Avalon Outdoor]
  5. Photo of the Day for September 22, 2017 - Willets taking flight

    Human Interest

    Today's Photo of the Day comes from Dan Cleary of Madeira Beach, FL.