With Sparks National Little League holding Opening Night on March 30th and Sparks Centennial Little League and Spanish Springs Cal Ripken both set to begin play on March 31, the anticipation is building for the kids.
“The kids can’t wait to get out there and start playing each other,” Centennial Vice President Steven Howe said. “They go to school with each other, they play football but they don’t get to play against each other and then they play basketball and that offers a little bit of competition, but baseball is really the true competition within the city and within the kids. The kids have a blast out there and they get after it and after each other a little bit. So the kids are really excited.”
The enthusiasm has shown as all three leagues have seen an increase in numbers. Sparks National is up in numbers in its younger divisions, while down a little bit in its older divisions leading to a total of around 400 kids, whereas Centennial and Cal Ripken saw more than 500 kids flock to tryouts.
For Sparks National President Lori Robertson, the boost in numbers at the younger level is encouraging.
“That’s our foundation. You have to build there,” Robertson said. “The problem we have with the majors now is a ‘four-year-ago problem,’ not a ‘yesterday problem.’ So I wholeheartedly believe that we have to bring these T-Ballers and the Farm kids in and give them the best season they’ve ever had so they want to come back and play ball. So seeing the numbers grow with the younger kids is very exciting.”
Others involved in Rail City youth baseball shared in the excitement.
“We’re about 50 players up from where we were last year,” Cal Ripken Vice President Brad Durski said. “That’s pretty good. That’s four whole extra teams. So it’s actually quite a bit more. Last year we had a problem finding enough players for the teams we had and this year we had a surplus. We had to create teams this year so that is good to see.”
The increase in players grabbing their bats and gloves initially has led to some minor difficulty for the leagues in filling coaching spots.
“We don’t have all of our coaching spots filled, but we’re slowly getting there,” Howe said. “We’re close. We want to add a few qualified guys to make sure that our kids get the best possible coaches that we have in the city. Usually we do a one-on-one interview with the director of each division and each director has their own vetting process based on the skill set that is needed for that specific division. It could be something as much as having organizational skills for the lower divisions and at the upper divisions having true baseball knowledge. We want true baseball people.”
Cal Ripken saw a similar delay in volunteers, but was able to solve the vacancies.
“We had to struggle to find coaches in the beginning but once we started telling everybody ‘Listen, do you want 14 players on a team or do you want 12 players on a team? You guys choose,’ people stepped up,” Durski said. “Once we started telling people we were going to have 14 kids on a T-Ball team, so we need you guys to step up and help coach people started saying they could do it. So we found enough coaches for all of our teams and we’re pretty well situated right now.”
With everything set in place and the teams set to take the field during the last weekend of March, the kids aren’t the only ones excited about hitting the fields.
“The board meets for the entire year. We don’t just meet from January to June. It’s an entire year process. So I think everyone is just excited to start playing some baseball,” Durski said. “You do so much work throughout the year then finally the season is here and the next thing you know it’s over and you’re waiting again for the next year. So everyone is pretty excited to get back out there.”
The sentiments were shared by Sparks National’s president.
“I think everyone is just excited to get on the fields,” Robertson said. “With all the prep that goes into preparing for the season, we are all ready to start the season. Just to get to the point to get back on the field, everybody is really excited, especially all of the volunteers. It just takes so much to get to this point in the season. There is nothing more exciting than to watch these kids go out and play.”