Youth baseball organizations ready to spring into action

Clubs report more kids will be playing this season

Howard At Play

March 23, 2003|By Lowell E. Sunderland | Lowell E. Sunderland,SUN STAFF

Soccer and lacrosse have their loyal, ever-growing constituencies, no question, but don't discount baseball as continuing to be maybe the truest harbinger of spring in Howard County.

Youth baseball organizations locally have some new leadership, which is the norm. In several instances this year, there is reason for new hope - and maybe even some growth in interest.

An informal sampling of some things baseball folks are talking about locally while hoping to work in at least a few practices before opening games in the next couple of weeks:

"Whatever slump baseball was in seems to be over," said Howard Carolan, who oversees all of the Howard County Youth Program's operations. "We have more kids in baseball and softball than ever, more travel teams than ever - and we'll have new restrooms [at Kiwanis-Wallas Park] all season."

HCYP, which will field about 2,300 players in both sports this spring, had been wondering in the last couple of years about softening numbers in its programs.

Carolan acknowledged that housing growth in greater Ellicott City might have something to do with this year's registration numbers.

Western Howard County Youth Baseball and Softball has quietly become the county's second-largest such program and will field about 1,700 players this spring, said third-year President Don Croce.

Like others in all field-using sports, Croce seemed most concerned about the impact of the long, cold winter and delayed spring-growing season on fields, which, besides being in somewhat shabby condition generally, are in short supply in the rapidly growing western region of the county.

"We were really hoping to work the Department of Education to get the fields that we use in better shape, but the snow really set all of us back," he said. "Now, parents and our coaches are just hoping we'll be able to start playing on time."

The Columbia Youth Baseball Association has a new man at the top. River Hill (and former Long Reach) resident Joe Gregory has taken over for Mike Swartz, president for the past three seasons, and promises more attention for recreation-level players.

Gregory, though, is not about to toss out the old with his new leadership role. Quickly, he noted that Swartz is leading CYBA's travel program.

Gregory, a CYBA baseball coach for five springs, said he wants the club to use Swartz's Building Baseball Players Web site as CYBA's bible for operations and teaching the game to children.

"It's really the right way to go about things, to teach the game to youngsters," he said.

Gregory also said he wants to focus on finding more parents and others to coach and to get involved with leading the 600- player club.

The Elkridge Youth Organization, which nearly came unglued last year for lack of new leadership but has found enough to apparently get on a positive plane again in all of its sports, has affiliated its recreational baseball operation with the national Babe Ruth League's Cal Ripken Baseball organization.

Ripken, the former Orioles superstar, has been steadily raising his profile in youth baseball. He, too, is emphasizing a combination of teaching fundamentals and stressing fun in playing over winning at all costs.

The Savage Boys and Girls Club's baseball program is still under commissioner Jeff Campbell's leadership, but the club's Web site is advertising for a new volunteer to step up, to learn the job this year and to succeed him next spring.

The Mid-Maryland Travel Association, which was founded last year by Columbia resident Dan Scafone and opened with 90 travel teams, is amazing him again.

This year, Scafone said, it looks as if the league will have 130 teams from, mainly, Howard County but also Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, and Montgomery counties, with a couple southern Pennsylvania representatives, as well.

"We're turning away teams right now," Scafone said.

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