A big boost for youth baseball
The great American game of baseball is subjected to a lot of scrutiny these days, but that’s at the big league level. At the grassroots level, it is and always has been only about the game.
Kids start out in grade school, usually playing slow-pitch softball on small diamonds. Despite rudimentary rules and funky equipment, they play the game basically the same way it’s played in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ infamous Brickyard.
The ones who enjoy it most graduate to the hardball game where rules are tighter and competition keener. The ability levels rise right along with equipment quality.
Facilitating that in McMinnville are a group of men and women who meet monthly at Oregon Mainline Paving on Northeast Cumulus Avenue.
Gathered around a conference table, the 16-member, all-volunteer board of the McMinnville Junior Baseball Organization provides the opportunity for second- through eighth-graders to participate in league play.
Friendly banter flies back and forth among the members, who are relaxed and at home around one another, obviously enjoying what they’re doing. For these committed folks, what the kids get out of it serves as their reward.
Among them are a doctor, lawyer, teacher, firefighter, sheriff’s deputy, stay-at-home mom and restaurant owner. They are joined by Mainline owner Matt Seehawer in his capacity as board president.
The organization strives to field at least nine teams each season — one at each of three skill levels in each of three age divisions.
From top to bottom, the age divisions Senior (14 and under), Junior (12 and under) and Midget (10 and under), while the skill levels are Federal, American and National. So the rungs range all the way from Midget National to Senior Federal.
If there are enough prospective players in any one niche, an additional coach is recruited and players are selected through a draft. If a player feels qualified to move up, he can request a tryout.
The organization belongs to the Westside Youth Baseball Association, which serves 21 communities, extending from Portland to the Coast. As a result, the teams get in a lot of playing time.
“We have 10 teams this year,” Seehawer said. “They each have four practices or games a week from the beginning of March to mid-July.
“That’s a total of 18 weeks or 72 games or practice sessions per team. Multiply that by 10 teams and you have a total of 720 individual events, not including the post-season.”
Seehawer went on to note, “With an average of 12 players per team, we are giving 120 kids the opportunity to play ball, gain some experience, learn good sportsmanship and have fun. We look forward to having quite a few of the younger players advance to the next level next year, and to see some talented seniors go on to play for high school teams in the area.”
He said, “We work closely with officials at the McMinnville School District. All of our practices and home games are played on school fields.”
To make sure everything runs smoothly, the 16 board members count on 10 coaches, 10 assistant coaches and a small army of helpers, notably parents.
One board member is asked to head up each division — Senior, Junior and Midget. Others fill the positions of schedule coordinator, field coordinator, tournament director and sports information director, the latter doubling as webmaster.
As with all boards, a secretary keeps things official and a treasurer looks after the finances. If that weren’t enough, still other members are assigned responsibility for uniforms, equipment, fundraising and coordination of volunteers.
Happily, the organization’s sponsorship and fundraising campaigns have gone well this year. Fifteen local businesses signed on as sponsors, and the Elks Lodge hosted its 2nd annual McMinnville JBO Texas Hold ‘em Poker Tournament March 15.
The Elks event featured bingo and a silent auction. Plans are already in the works for a 3rd annual edition next year.
A raffle also helped raise funds. Teams and players competed in selling blocks of tickets to support the cause.
The top three teams sold 1,977 tickets, while the top 10 players sold 1,718. Prizes were an Oregon Ducks Rose Bowl helmet and a 55-inch LED TV.
The other measure of success is on the field. Though only a few games into the season, the organization’s Midget Federal Red is in first place and its Junior National and Senior Federal teams are tied for first place.
The Senior Federal squad, played at the league’s top level, hasn’t lost a game yet. Could that be because it’s being coached by Joe Smith, head football coach at Linfield, where winning is a way of life?
And that’s what I found out while OUT and ABOUT — cheering from the stands as scrappy little kids take mighty swings with big bats at a small, fast-moving ball.
Karl Klooster can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 503-687-1227.