Tom Neuberger's initial impression of the Green Hornets baseball program was less than flattering.
"I was disappointed," said Neuberger, who moved to Severna Park from Lake Shore eight years ago. "It wasjust too casual. The emphasis was on community play, and the attitude was, 'let's have fun.' There was no serious baseball."
Not one to wait for change, Neuberger got together with other disgruntled parents and coaches and met with the Greater Severna Park Athletic Association in an effort to form a "select" baseball team for boys who wanted to take the sport more seriously.
Neuberger said the GSPAA was reluctant at first, but eventually agreed to make changes.
And things have been booming since.
The program, which consisted of 432 players five years ago and 712 players two seasons back, now boasts more than 1,100 players on 71 community teams and eight select/travel teams. Play ranges from tee ball up to high-school-age teams. And with 140 kids in the Green Hornets tee ball program, that number should continue to increase.
"To have a successful program you have to provide good equipment, good umpires and good facilities," said Neuberger, now the GSPAA's vice president for administration. "Any one of these can make or break you. If you do those things well, volunteers will come forward. When people see a program is well-supported, they want to get involved."
Joe Gribben, who served as the Green Hornets' baseball director in 1990, has been involved in the program for nine years. He is now the commissioner of the county's Babe Ruth League and the director of the Green Hornets' 13-14 division. He also coaches the Severna Park Babe Ruth team and a 15-16 team in the Joey Brown League. He attributes the growth and success of the organization to individuals who give their time for the betterment of the organization and the kids.
"I don't want to sound too cocky, but the quality of our program is a direct result of its volunteers," said Gribben, who also serves as director of baseball education. "The volunteerism is incredible here."
While no one would argue that the quality of the organization has aided in its growth, the population boost in the area, which includes more than 800 new homes in the Shipley's Choice community, also has had something to do with it.
Neuberger said he also has seen a general renewed interest in baseball, but would like to believe that his efforts -- and the efforts of others in the organization -- have played a major role in the development of a successful feeder program.
"When you offer a good program, more kids get involved," said Neuberger, whose son Steve, a product of theGreen Hornets, now plays for Severna Park High's team, ranked 22nd nationally by USA Today.
"We try to offer something for every type of player. We have select teams for players who want to play competitive ball, and boys who don't make the select teams can still try out for one of the tournament teams."
Boys who fail to make either theselect or tournament teams still can get their fill of baseball by competing in either a summer or fall league, both designed to give youngsters the at-bats required to improve at the sport.
With the size of the baseball program having more than doubled in the last five years, the Green Hornets have been in the rough when it comes to diamonds. The Green Hornets hope to get some additional playing fields on the 280 acres of land at Kinder Park -- only 30 acres now are being used -- but for now will have to make do with the available fields.
"Anne Arundel County is the hub of baseball," said Gribben, who sayscounty administrators have been "very cooperative" in meeting the needs of the organization. "We're proud to be a feeder group for Severna Park and other high schools in the area."
Brian Beaudean, first-year director of baseball, said he is pleased by the Severna Park High baseball team's success, but he takes equal pride in the little victories.
"It's exciting when you see kids who have gone through your program make super plays in high school, but it's equally exciting to see a kid who has never picked up a baseball before hit it or catch it for the first time," he said. "That's where the reward comes from."