Want to have a fun summer – play recreational baseball.
It used to be that simple. Nowadays there are a gazillion options for kids to play for a school team, travel team, development program, community league, or any combination of ’em all. Worst of all – the epidemic of travel baseball teams over the past 10 years has taken a toll on the kinds of community leagues most of us remember from our childhood.
Surrounding communities have seen their community leagues either completely fall apart, or are near it. Many of these “travel ball” kids (it’s really their parents) got so tired of playing with those “rec ball kids”, that they feel creating or joining a “travel” or “competitive” baseball team is the way to go. By doing so, the numbers and talent levels in the community leagues has dwindled down to nearly zero. Thankfully, that isn’t the case for our league.
When I joined Stateline 8 years ago, this problem was affecting us a little bit. We were still doing well, with about 4 – 6 teams per division, but things were not going in the right direction. Kids were leaving for a multitude of reasons. But …. with some hard work, creative thinking, and a dedication to a quality baseball experience, we have grown Stateline to servicing over 800 kids throughout the year. How has Stateline Baseball thrived while other surrounding community leagues struggle? Well – there’s a story there…
I was a baseball guy growing up, and am lucky enough to have a son that loves the sport as much as I did – but after watching him play T-Ball / Coach Pitch for a couple years, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about what our previous community was offering for baseball. We moved into the Roscoe/Rockton area and my wife was looking for a new organization that Zach could play baseball for. We were lucky enough to run into Stateline Baseball at the RORO Expo.
Stateline was an improvement, no doubt. The coaches were incredibly kind and fun. Once Zach’s coach heard about my baseball experience, he quickly recruited me to coach with him. Here I am 8 years later, the President of the league, and I have a lot to be proud of.
These are just a few things that we have done to improve youth baseball in the area, all of which make Stateline Baseball the absolute best-organized league around.
An honest look at the quality of the league
I knew we could improve on the quality of the league, but to do so, we had to understand how quality is perceived. Did we have to improve the skill of the players? Did we need better fields? Better umpires? Nicer fields? Higher educated Coaches? Yes…. to all of it. But none of it would matter if the players and parents did not have a great experience from start to finish.
After admitting our faults, we had to start chipping away at all the things we could control. Things like fields, umpire training, uniforms, communications, registration process, etc…
Knowing where to focus our efforts first
For our largest group of players (4 – 8) most people don’t know what to expect – so the slightest improvement would have been OK – but OK wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted Stateline to be the best. This is why we immediately made changes to the way we operated our 8u and 6u divisions (Coach Pitch & T-Ball). Here are a few things we have done to make this important division of players the best it can be:
- All players receive a jersey, pants, and hat.
- Kids start hitting a moving ball as early as 4 years old
- Players begin pitching in games starting at 7 years old
- Teams are given opportunities to play on our “big-boy” diamond, Leland Park
Expand our programs to reach and retain more players
Our Stateline Thunder program is one of the things I am most proud of creating. With so many kids looking to expand the training and competition they faced, it fell on me to find a way to ensure their needs were met. Now in its 6th season, we have 5 Thunder teams serving nearly 60 kids. Instead of chasing trophies, or giving false promises to get players into college baseball, our Thunder teams require participation in the Community League, helping to grow character, respect for the game, and an appreciation for the community they live/play in.
Kids want more than just a summer program
We have expanded from just Spring/Summer baseball into a year-round program. We have a Fall Ball program that plays in August – October, which has continued to grow since our marketing & communication efforts are better, and as other fall programs shrink. In addition – we also offer a Winter Training for those players that have an itch to get started early. Our winter training started the year I created Thunder, as a way to offer better training to those players that would have left the league if we didn’t have what they wanted.
We started that year with 16 kids in winter training. In 2018 we had over 80 kids training with us.
This additional training, in turn, feeds into the quality of gameplay, the overall experience players have with our league, and the comradery built between our community youth.
The on-field experience matters more than anything else
I know that in the grand scheme of things, we are creating memories. All players and parents want is for those memories to be positive. Knowing the importance of this, we focus very hard on creating an atmosphere that promotes a top-notch on-field experience. A few things we do that makes us stand out are:
- Properly trained and dressed umpires
- Coaches receive FREE training every year
- High-quality uniforms for all players, including MLB hats
- Well manicured and striped fields for every game & every division
- Big-league feel announcing during All-Star & Championship games
While other programs around us fall apart, we are proud to be growing our community baseball league. Baseball is a critical part of the youth summer experience, and residents in the Stateline area reap the benefits of having the absolutely best community baseball league playing in their backyard.
Parks & Recreation
This article is written for the Chamber of Commerce by Ryan Rydell of Stateline Baseball for our Quarterly Content Marketing plans. In addition to his time as a coach & sponsor, Ryan has served as the league’s President for many years, helping to develop the program into the Stateline area’s premier organized youth baseball league.
If you have some content that serves this quarter’s content topic, please send us your article for publication.
The opinions stated in this piece are from it’s writer, and are not necessary the opinions of the Chamber. The Chamber is not a legal or financial advisor.