Little League baseball continues to grow in the West Kootenays, as the boys and girls of summer step up to the plate on Saturday to open the Trail Minor Baseball League (TMBL) season at Andy Bilesky Park.
A robust turnout saw close to 180 young players register for Trail Minor Baseball this season, up from 145 last season and just over 100 the year before.
“Long story short is that our numbers are up again,” said Jim Maniago, TMBL executive member. “Up to 180 kids this year which is by far the most in a very long time.”
An inspired executive, good coaching, helpful volunteers and sponsors, piquing interest in the schools, and a “come try baseball” campaign has helped get youngsters out on the diamond with numbers more than doubling in the last five seasons.
“We have an awesome executive, and we beat the bushes a little bit,” said Maniago. “We’ve had people in the schools sending flyers home, and then I just think we’ve had a pretty good group of coaches. But your biggest recruiters are the kids, when kids go to school and say, ‘Baseball is really fun,’ then they bring other kids out.”
Trail minor baseball will field three Major Little League teams (age 11-12) for the first time in many years (up from two last year), five minor teams (age 8-11), seven rookie teams (age 6-9), and 45 age 5-6 Blast Ball players.
In all, a dozen teams from Nelson, Castlegar, Grand Forks, Beaver Valley, Trail and Salmo will play in the Major division and 15 in the minor division.
“The whole region is doing well,” said Maniago. “Castlegar and Nelson have three teams each in minors and majors, Beaver Valley has one major and two minor, and Salmo and Grand Forks have one each.”
The upward trend in the West Kootenay reflects an increase in minor baseball participation across Canada. Last year over 120,000 Canadians played baseball, an increase of 15,000 players (14 per cent) from 2015. Baseball Canada reported that all 10 provincial members reported an increase.
Maniago says that rule changes have helped, especially at the younger-age spectrum, and the way kids are introduced to the game has changed. A limited two-runs-per-inning rule in minor ball, and reducing the number of games and increasing practices makes it more fun and keeps the kids active and involved.
“The minors use to play more games, but we found it’s more important at that age to practice,” said Maniago. “At the younger levels, you just want to go out there have fun for an hour, have a freezy, and go home.”
Long-time umpire Brad Elliot will again try to throw out the first pitch for the Opening Day ceremony at noon, after rainouts foiled his efforts the past two seasons. Elliot spent 50 years behind the plate, umpiring at virtually every level of baseball in Trail.
Opening Day goes Saturday with the Minor Mariners and Dodgers playing at 9:30 a.m., the Minor Red Sox versus the Giants at 10 a.m. and the Blastball and Rookie uniforms at 11:30 a.m. The opening ceremony goes at noon, with the Major Padres playing the Orioles at 12:30 p.m. and the Rookie team-building in the small park. Minor B.V. 1 takes on the Pirates at 1:30 p.m., and the day wraps up with the Major Padres playing B.V. at 2:30 p.m.