The kids wanted to play baseball Saturday.

A little rain didn’t bother them, but it was enough for the planned doubleheader to be canceled.

Nevertheless, the Cal-Coast Baseball Academy fundraiser went on as scheduled at Santa Maria’s Elks Field.

“Cal-Coast Baseball Academy is something we started at On Deck,” said Darrell Skaggs, the owner of the On Deck Batting Cages in Town Center Mall. “It’s a way to get older kids to play during the offseason, the ones who aren’t playing football or basketball. It’s also helps us get their baseball skills up to par.”

The Academy’s Cutters team was scheduled to play the first two games of their season Saturday against a team from Los Angeles but the Angelinos didn’t want to make the trip up the coast on wet roads.

So it was a day of practice for the Cutters.

It was also a day for fundraising with a tri-tip lunch being sold to family, friends and baseball enthusiasts.

Everyone also had the chance to get an autographed baseball from one of the academy’s sponsors – L.A. Angels starting pitcher Tyler Skaggs, Darrell’s 25-year old son.

“No kids are turned away. We’re trying to do it so we don’t have to charge the kids or their families. Most of those travel teams cost families $200 to $300 a month,” said Darrell Skaggs. “So we’re raising money to help with expenses. We have some sponsorship money but fundraisers will help us with the cost of field rentals and some equipment.”

Saturday’s fundraiser was expected to raise enough money to cover the costs of four upcoming tournaments.

The Academy started several months ago.

The players practice hitting three days a week at the On Deck cages then spend Saturdays and Sundays playing at the Orcutt National Babe Ruth field just off of Skyway Drive.

“Right now we have 17 kids, which is pretty good. We’re hoping to get it up to 20 but if we get more, then we’ll start another team,” said Skaggs. “It’s not a ‘daddy ball’ team, we have real coaches. We kept seeing kids coming in who were discouraged because they couldn’t make other youth teams because they were always stuck behind the coaches’ kids. We’re not like that.”

There’s a new On Deck facility, right next to the old one on the mall’s second floor.

In the new facility, the players can practice both pitching and hitting in the cages but Skaggs has made several improvements over the old site.

“We can open up all the cage curtains and it becomes one big infield so they can practice fielding, too,” said Skaggs. “But we’re trying to do so much more. If the boys or girls need help, we’re providing help for them with their schoolwork and we’re hoping to add a computer room.”

Skaggs’ On Deck is one of the sponsors of the fledgling Cal-Coast program.

Central Coast Health Care and Tyler Skaggs are also lending financial support.

“The Academy is good for the kids,” said Tyler Skaggs. “My dad talked to me a lot about starting up the academy. I try to help out with coaching when I can, especially when it comes to pitching. I’d like to help more but I’m just not in Santa Maria enough.”

The younger Skaggs can’t get to town as much as he likes because of his full time job as a starting pitcher for the L.A. Angels.

The 25-year old lefty just completed his fourth big league season, his first full season since undergoing Tommy John surgery.

“I think this is great. All these kids work hard and deserve this opportunity,” said Tyler Skaggs.

When he has the time, Tyler Skaggs loves working with the young ballplayers, especially the pitchers.

“With the younger pitchers, I try to keep it simple and just teach the basics – you know, throw first pitch strikes,” said Tyler Skaggs. “With the older kids I try to show them they need to have command of all their pitchers and try to help them develop that skill set.”

There will be more fundraisers coming up for the Cal-Coast Baseball Academy although the specifics have yet to be worked out.

You can find out more about the academy and On Deck’s other programs by calling 562-426-4487 or by visiting their website at http://www.ondeckbattingcages.com.

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Senior Sports Reporter

Elliott Stern has worked at Lee Central Coast Newspapers for the last 18 years after more than 30 years working in television and radio news and sports.