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Inter-community youth baseball returns

Susan Prasse

(7/10) Lured by a chance to compete at more elite levels, full-time travel teams have begun to erode many local communities’ baseball programs. Many kids have left local baseball for full-time travel teams in central PA and upper Maryland. Travel ball, by contrast, is not cheap — participation fees average about $2,000 per player per year. Since tournaments and games are usually in other towns, players and their parents must spend many hours on the road. Year by year, they go from one travel team to another, switching teammates and uniforms, usually signifying something other than their home town.

With the loss of so many players and their families to travel teams, the community league games have lost just that - a certain sense of community. Recognizing this fact, little league coaches in Emmitsburg, Taneytown, West Carroll and Libertytown, Fairfield, Gettysburg and Cashtown, came together in 2014 to form a two-state merger program in an effort to expand the teams area of play. Taneytown League President Rick Patterson said that the leagues merged in the Minors Division (ages 9-10) and the Majors Division (ages 11-12).

This offered players expanded opportunities to play different teams, and not just the same teams over and over again. And, while it is only a Rec Division, the players almost feel like they are playing travel baseball. By merging the teams, they are able to better measure their strengths and weaknesses. Patterson said, "I believe once word really gets out about how successful this past year has been, more players will come back to playing in the Rec Leagues, instead of going back to travel baseball."

Mike Ball of Fairfield is the treasurer of Fairfield Baseball and Softball. He is also one of the coaches who has helped organize the merger. Ball has been coaching little league baseball for many years and has seen the trends of the travel teams and their effects on the local community. "Many families are electing to play travel ball, which for some kids is great, but the kids who are just beginning to play, or the ones who need help or don’t want to travel, they need to be able to have that local team,’ said Ball.

Mark Darnell of Gettysburg Youth Baseball says the kids in the league like the variety, and as coaches we are able to really spend time with these kids, help them in areas where they might be struggling. This new merger makes for a good mix of kids, and may entice families who play travel ball back to their community league."

While some minor improvements will need to be made to further improve the merger, overall it is a success among players, coaches and parents.

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