Sunny skies greeted James Dotson as he prepped Hess Field Friday morning.

For that he was grateful.

The Neshannock Township Pony Baseball coach knew there were no makeups for this game, even if it meant being at the field two hours before the game sopping up puddles from this week’s torrential rains.

“We have no chance for a makeup when the other team has a schedule of 34 games in 33 days,” said Dotson whose team of 13- and 14-year-olds was taking on the traveling Potter’s Pirates.

Noting it was the sixth year his teams have faced off against the group comprised of youths ages 12 to 16, Dotson said, “We love being part of this really cool organization.”

Founded by Ellwood City native Jeff Potter, a former minor-league pitcher with the Detroit Tigers organization, the summer tour provides the 20 teammates not only an opportunity to play ball, but learn life lessons as they perform community service.

“I love the kids and mentoring them,” said Potter, now in his 10th season of leading the travel group. “It does them good to get out on the road and figure things out.

“In every town, we have what we call a tour director who decides where we play and what the important causes are in the area. This year, we’ve done everything from work in food pantries to helping cancer patients,” continued Potter who now lives in Maryland.

Yesterday marked day 14 on this year’s 33-day trip taking the team from Cleveland to North Carolina.

Arriving in New Castle early yesterday morning from the Clarion area, the Pirates had breakfast at Hazel’s before gathering in the neighboring Vision Ministries’ office where they heard from several inspirational speakers organized by the Rev. Randy Crum.

The founder and president of Vision Ministries, Crum has been a friend of Potter’s since high school when he was a standout on the Neshannock baseball team, being recruited at the same time as the visiting coach.

Speaking first, Ron Wethli, a retired Pennsylvania state trooper, encouraged the youths to follow Jesus rather than drugs and alcohol.

A heart transplant recipient, the 77-year-old who received an organ from a drug addict told the players, “If you do what God wants, you’re going to be blessed.”

Detective Justin Crum of the New Castle Police Department warned the team of the dangers of drinking and texting while driving, telling the teens to “be the best you can be, not the person who should’ve done better.”

John Quahliero, assistant Neshannock High School baseball coach, told the Pirates to “be humble, work hard and be a great teammate,” admitting that when he was their age, “I was the guy who threw my helmet.

“Don’t take what you have for granted, even if you don’t get a hit every time you get up,” Quahliero said. “Because there are kids out there who can’t even get out of bed let alone up to bat.”

Lessons learned, it was time for the players to load the team’s travel vans and head out to games in Neshannock and Ellwood City. From there it was on to stay the night with host families before leaving this morning for games in Meadville and Butler.

Explaining that his family has hosted players for the past five or six years, 12-year-old Gavin Ellison of Butler, couldn’t wait to finally be old enough to play for the Pirates.

“Every time they came to Butler, they stayed with us and I wanted to play,” Gavin said, adding that his first year on the team has been “fun so far.”

His teammate, 14-year-old Evan Cash of Virginia Beach, added that the community service element made the team special.

Noah DiTullio, 16, of Clarion agreed.

“It’s the life lessons and helping others,” said the three-year veteran who’s dad, Scott, helps with coaching and acts as a chaperone. “It really does open your eyes to just how lucky we are.”

rgendreau@ncnewsonline.com

Renee Gendreau is a lifestyles reporter at the New Castle News. Email her at rgendreau@ncnewsonline.com.

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