Youth baseball: No sophomore slump expected for parks department league

March 29, 2013

The Sedalia Parks and Recreation Department’s second season of recreational youth baseball is drawing near.

Registration closed last week, but interested players are encouraged to contact Recreation Superintendent Amy Epple at 826-4930 or to see if any openings are available.

Coaches meetings are set for Monday at Convention Hall in Liberty Park, practices are set to begin April 8  and games are scheduled to start May 6.

SPR took the reins from the West Central Missouri Baseball Association last summer. WCMBA, led locally by Brian Egbert, ran youth baseball for one summer. The program focused on fundamentals and was recreational and locally run. The cost of playing baseball dropped under the new program compared to its predecessors, Reviving Baseball in Innercities and Little League Baseball.

However, Egbert’s group encountered problems.

“They approached us around February. ... I think some of it is people start out wanting to help (and then they quit),” Mark Hewett, director of the Sedalia Parks and Recreation Department, said. “That core group of 20 or 25 is whittling down to about four or five. That’s too much work for them to do.”

Hewitt said that the parks department wanted to keep the program up and running.

“We still want to feed those traveling teams because the traveling teams will feed Sacred Heart, Applewood (Christian) and Smith-Cotton,” Hewitt said. “When they’re done, maybe they’ll want to go to Legion ball or college ball.”

Hewett said the cost to run the program is a lot higher than what Egbert’s group paid, but it was either accept the challenge or let it die.

“They had to have volunteers. We have to pay everybody,” Hewitt said. “They closed out their account and they had about $10,000 that we deposited for the start, but we had to replace a lot of equipment. We spent $20,000 to $25,000. It was quite expensive the first year. We’re looking better this year but it is going to be a fairly expensive program to maintain.”

The program runs mostly like Egbert’s did. Players ages 5-8 are in coach-pitch leagues.

“That way the hitters don’t have to be afraid. Those little kids are wild, so a lot of times the kids weren’t hitting the ball,” Hewitt said. “We might look into getting a pitching machine because some of the coaches have trouble continually pitching. (The pitching machines) can get it consistently right there. They’re quite expensive. The coaches will continue to pitch this year.”

Players start pitching at 9 and continue through age 12.

Similar to the parks department’s adult volleyball and youth basketball programs, businesses can sponsor a team. The cost is $350.

Hewitt said that last season was a good one, commending the work of Recreation Superintendent Amy Epple, who spearheaded the project. He estimated that between 350 and 400 youths played baseball last summer.

Egbert’s league followed the RBI program that was sponsored by Major League Baseball and the Boys and Girls Clubs of West Central Missouri.

In 2009, the RBI rookie program, a pilot strategy also known as Jr. RBI, took over from Little League Baseball. The high costs and registration and an undermanned staff were reasons for the change.

The rookie program was for youths ages 5-12. The 13- through 18-year-olds still competed in the traditional RBI program that began in 2007.

For two years, both the RBI and Little League programs co-existed with the older boys playing in the RBI league and the younger boys participating in Little League Baseball.

Before that, Sedalia was part of Little League Baseball, which allowed all-star teams to compete in postseason play. That program was offered in Sedalia for 53 years.

In the mid-2000s, the Little League program faced declining numbers, especially in the 13 to 18 age group. RBI was seen as an opportunity to bring in more older players.

Numbers more than doubled from 2006 to 2007. In 2006, without RBI, 48 youths — none over 16  — participated in summer baseball in the 13 to 18 age division. In 2007, 109 players came out, including players from surrounding communities.

RBI focuses on youths who qualify for free or reduced lunches and on getting more minorities involved.