RUSSELLVILLE - Ashton Miller is a familiar face at the Outlaw Baseball League games and the Russellville Lions Club ball fields.
Only age 3, Ashton enjoys the hectic baseball season brought on his family the last several years from Dad Michael Miller, who coordinates the young league.
While Michael Miller has been coaching three of his sons' ball teams, Ashton helps in the concession stand.
"This kid sleeps with his glove, always has a ball and when we go into eat after a game, he carries in his bat," Miller said.
Miller's 12-year-old, Chandler, has been playing baseball for seven years, this being his third year in a competitive league.
The sons get their fervency from their father.
Miller joined with other Russellville parents to create greater opportunities for the community's youth.
Two years ago, when Chandler was 10, Miller and his wife, Amy, "knew as parents we wanted more opportunity for him to start at an earlier age, so we then formed Outlaw Baseball, asking neighboring towns to participate."
The first year Russellville had one 10U team. This year, they offer seven summer leagues for up to age 15 for boys and a 16U for girls softball. And the league plans to offer a fall 12U softball team.
Participating communities include Jamestown, Eldon, St. Elizabeth, Eugene, California, South Callaway, Mokane, Jefferson City, New Bloomfield, Brazito, Wardsville, Centertown and High Point.
In addition to Outlaw, organizers created the Russellville Competitive League. Members of the league include Ray Green, Mike Harrison, Jake Kirchner, Donna Roe and Amy Miller.
The league leases the Russellville Lions Club Fields, allowing them to make improvements and maintain the facilities.
"Why not improve what is already in place and in need for our direct community?" Miller said of the Lions partnership. "If we create a great place right here in town to play ball, then the investment return is a lifetime of kids getting an opportunity to play ball and to stay busy, to stay out of trouble, long after we are gone."
The Lions built the "small" field about 12 years ago because the youngest teams' games would be postponed to accommodate the older teams make-up games, said Patty Smith, daughter of the late Johnnie Olson.
"He would've been so excited to see the kids playing there last weekend," Smith said.
Olson was the key Lions volunteer to see the fields built. And he was able to watch his grandchildren play the inaugural games for both fields.
"The league has made improvements and its being used was what my dad would have wanted - it's neat for that to happen," Smith said.
The league has built up both fields with a dirt/sand mixture to help with damp conditions and drainage.
The "big" field received new fencing, block dugouts, improved lighting and a French drain along the first base fence - all from volunteer labor. Several pieces of equipment and materials have been donated as well.
"We appreciate the people who have given their time and effort to improve the fields and keep them being used," Smith said.
Next, the league plans to add playground equipment to occupy the younger siblings.
And in the future, the league would like to add lights and fencing to the "small" field.
"After much needed improvements are made, we hope to host an USSSA-level tournament, in which registered teams compete for points for the State games, which are played throughout Missouri, depending on your team classification," Miller said.
One stream of revenue for the league's improvement projects is the dozen business advertising signs along the back wall. But the primary source is the tournaments themselves.
"I think it is extremely important to keep these leagues going," Miller said. "If you're a smart coach, you will realize that, yes, winning is great. But you're teaching kids life skills that far exceed the adrenaline of the win."
Leading by example, the adult volunteers model and encourage teamwork, socialization, sportsmanship and the ability to count on someone else, Miller said.
"This also gives a kid a passion, a reason to work hard and do what's right each," Miller said. "In the end, they create a love for the sport."
His hope is this generation of athletes will pass on that love for the sport to the next, too.
"To me, that's what my prize in the end is," Miller said.
He might coach up to 22 games in a single week.
"But the sacrifice in time is I may have had one moment of influence in a child's life that can change there life forever to the good," Miller said.