Arvia: Merry Christmas to road-weary ballplayers
PHIL ARVIA firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5949 December 23, 2011 9:20PM
Joe Marrotta is part of a joint effort to launch Southwest Interleague in 2012. | Larry Ruehl~Sun-Times Media
Travel Ball Alternative
The towns of the Souththwest Interleague: Bedford Park, Blue Island, Bridgeview, Country Club Hills, Crestwood, Hickory Hills, Hometown, Orland Hills and Worth.
Information: Available through the above leagues or at www.allprosoftware.net/swi
Updated: January 26, 2012 8:13AM
So, moms and dads, perhaps you’re reading this while Junior and Missy are out in the driveway, seeing how far a $50 Fijit can fly off the barrel of a $300 BBCOR bat. Maybe, if you’re really blessed this holiday season, one of the little darlings is sliding in right now for a close play at the $100 Leappad that’s doubling for home plate.
Or maybe you’re just wondering how you can pay off all this holly and jolly by the time you have to pony up registration fees for travel ball.
If that sounds like you, and if you happen to live in Hickory Hills, Worth, Bedford Park, Bridgeview, Orland Hills, Crestwood, Blue Island, Hometown or Country Club Hills, I have one thing to say to you:
The price of playing lots of ballgames against a wide variety of competition just took a big cut in the above communities, all of which will be part of the expanded Southwest Interleague baseball and softball programs in 2012.
Why am I telling you this now, months before opening day?
Joe Marrotta asked.
“We want word to get out there fast, before all these kids sign up to play with these watered-down travel teams,” Marrotta said.
Marrotta, 38, is a deputy with the Cook County Sheriff’s Office, the president of Hickory Hills Youth Baseball, the 4th Ward Alderman in Palos Hills, and not shy with his opinions.
To hear him tell it, travel ball is killing community-based, or “in-house” leagues — and while it grows bigger, it’s also growing weaker.
“When I was a kid, (travel) was the elite of the elite,” he said. “Nowadays, every father that gets mad at a league starts a travel team.”
Watered down or not, travel leagues are indisputably pricey. It’s easy to spend well into four figures per child for a travel season.
“You can go to a travel team and pay $2,000,” Marrotta said, “or you can come to Hickory Hills and pay $100.”
For that $100, kids can expect to play about 40 games over a season. The league’s longest drive will be from Bedford Park to Country Club Hills — less than 20 miles.
Last year, the Southwest Interleague had teams from four towns — Hickory Hills, Bridgeview, Bedford Park and Worth. This year, the group is adding at least six communities — three others are weighing whether to sign on.
Jim Gutierrez, the vice president of the Orland Hills Youth Association, helped his league dip a toe into interleague play last year. This year?
“We’re jumping in,” the 42-year-old Lockport firefighter said. “We have experienced the benefits of it. We’ve gone from five or six communities and now we’re in with 10. We think we knocked this one out of the park.”
Certainly, the OHYA had to take a hack at something. Two years ago, Gutierrez said, it had three or four teams in each of its six age divisions and played a strictly in-house schedule. Last year, the numbers dropped, leaving two teams in most divisions.
“We reached out to other communities to see what they had to offer,” he said. “They were running into the same problems.”
Nobody likes to play an entire schedule against one or two opponents. But then, not everyone wants the financial commitment of travel ball, or some of its grander pretensions.
“Are they all elite players? I don’t know,” Gutierrez said. “I just know my boys love to play baseball.
“We’re trying to avoid the extinction of the local programs. ... If you can’t afford $2,000, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be able to play.”
No doubt, the towns new and old to the Southwest Interleague haven’t thought of everything. Though they’ve agreed on the rule book they’ll use, inevitably there will be differing interpretations. Each league has one representative on the interleague board, and they’ll elect a chairman at their next meeting — which will no doubt test egos and patience. And wherever money is involved, even small amounts, arguments follow.
But, listening to Gutierrez talk about fees ranging from $60 to $110 for kids ages 5 to 16, it’s easy to root for the league’s success.
“That includes everything from registration to uniforms,” he said.
Uniforms? What, a hat and a T-shirt?
“Hat, shirt, socks, pants and belt,” he said.
Sounds like a good deal to me.