FORT LAUDERDALE — In an effort to reconnect the black community with the once-favored sport of baseball, state Rep. Perry Thurston is hosting the first annual Thurston AAA Invitational Baseball Tournament this weekend at Joseph C. Carter Park in Fort Lauderdale.
The mid-season tournament opens Friday at 6 p.m. with a kick-off rally including music and County Commissioner Josephus Eggelletion as the guest speaker.
Two teams from Carter Park, ages 9-10 and 11-12, will face two West Palm Beach teams, the South Kendall Rays, ages 9-10 and 11-12.
Eight teams will participate in the tournament. Subsequent games will be scheduled based on a process of elimination.
“We invited more, but only eight accepted,” said David Deal, the city of Fort Lauderdale Parks and Recreation Department’s recreation coordinator.
Other teams scheduled to play are The Black Fox from Mangonia Park, ages 9-10; Seminole Tribe, ages 11-12; Delray Beach American Little League, ages 9-10 and 11-12 and Ligia Deportiva la Alta Gracias, ages 9-10, from the Dominican Republic.
Thurston, an avid supporter of the baseball leagues in Carter Park, said his goal was to rally inner-city teams from Deerfield Beach to Dania Beach.
“We also enlisted kids from Dillard, Stranahan and South Plantation [high schools] to work with us during the tournament,” Thurston said.
Members of the Florida (soon to be Miami) Marlins will visit the park throughout Saturday and Sunday, Thurston said.
“Growing up, baseball was a marquee sport,” Thurston said of his motivation to host the tournament, “and blacks were avid fans. I always loved it. Kids aren’t playing that much now; equipment is just too expensive.”
The cost of the league is $150 per team. Corporate sources have contributed to defray the fee, Thurston said, adding that many of the children in the area he represents look to sports as an opportunity to pay for their education.
“And I would love to see more of them to take advantage of the opportunities in baseball,’’ he said.
Thurston partnered with the Front Porch Organization to support the tournament. The Front Porch Organization is a nonprofit benefiting Fort Lauderdale’s Dorsey-Riverbend and Sistrunk corridor communities.
“I said to them [Front Porch], ‘Let’s do something to shine a spotlight on the kids, and even if they aren’t winning, the other kids in the neighborhood will have the opportunity to see what they are doing,’ ‘’ he said. “Hopefully, this will spark more interest in the sport in the community.”
Thurston added: “We want this to be an opportunity that will benefit our youth in the long run.”
Photo: State Rep. Perry Thurston
IF YOU GO
WHAT: 1st Annual Thurston AAA Baseball Tournament.
WHERE: Joseph C. Carter Park, 1450 W. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale.
WHEN: Tournament opens Friday, April 3 at 6 p.m. and continues Saturday and Sunday, April 4 and 5, from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.
COST: Free and open to the public.
CONTACT: For more information, call 954-828-5411.