Ripken Baseball Sweeping RegionBy Susan Bush
12:00AM / Thursday, February 02, 2006
Several Berkshire region communities and a Southern Vermont town are affiliating with the Cal Ripken youth baseball division, and the area's Ripken leagues are looking forward to a great season, said Western Mass. Ripken District 1 Commissioner Barry Wadsworth of Williamstown.
|Cal Ripken District 1 Commissioner Barry Wadsworth of Williamstown, Mass..|
"It's all about inclusion," Wadsworth said during a Jan. 31 interview. "Cal Ripken encourages equal playing time. It's for every boy and girl who has a bat and wants to play. The thing about Ripken is the flexibility and saying to the kids 'hey, play ball and have fun.'"
The towns of Lanesboro, Lenox, Lee, Cheshire, and Pownal, Vt. are on board with Ripken baseball for the upcoming season, Wadsworth said.
The alliances have already generated benefits, Wadsworth said. For example, Lanesboro, Pownal, and Williamstown have formed the Greylock League, he said.
"These small towns create one big league," he said. "The Greylock League should have over 400 players and that gives the league a voice."
Cal Ripken baseball is part of the larger Babe Ruth League. The Ripken division offers several levels of play that are focused on age. Keeping age groups together provides a better athletic experience, Wadsworth said, and noted that being able to play and compete with individuals of their own age group builds confidence and interest in sports.
"The way Ripken works its' tournaments levels its' playing field," Wadsworth said. "The nine-year-olds play with the nine-year-olds, the tens play with the tens. It's really not that impressive when twelve-year-olds are striking out nine-year-olds, that's pretty easy. It is impressive when twelve-year-olds are striking out other twelve-year-olds."
Majors, Minors, And More
Ripken offers "Majors," which is the most experienced Ripken play level and is recommended for 11-and 12-year-olds. Ripken "Minors" are 9- to 10-year-olds. The "minors" are included in Ripken post-season tournaments, according to information available at a www.baberuthleague.org Internet web site.
The Ripken division offers "Rookie" and "T-Ball" levels for younger players.
Local Ripken organizations are allowed great flexibility during regular season play, Wadsworth said. For example, the division allows intra-community play, meaning that a Pownal team may play a Lanesboro or Williamstown team as opposed to only playing other Pownal teams. And every member of a team is given time at bat and in the field during every regular season game, he said. The inclusion and playing time meets the approval of most parents and the young athletes, Wadsworth said.
The program range is also a benefit, Wadsworth said, and noted that a five-year-old could start with Ripken T-Ball and move up the ranks through the years, always playing with other players of his own age.
"We handle the five- to twelve-year-olds, so there is a concentration on the little guys," he said. "There is also accountability. And we can cross community lines, we can take school-choice kids, so we'll take kids from five to twelve years old, and we'll find a home [a team] for them."
The league offers district, state, and regional events as well as a "World Series."
A "Wood Bat" Classic
Wadsworth has organized league charters in Northampton and Hadley, and Pittsfield has launched the process to charter a Ripken division, Wadsworth said. The force behind the Pittsfield Ripken charter is Jim Stimpson, a former West Little League president. Stimpson may be reached at a email@example.com e-mail address.
Tournaments occur after regular season play concludes; in 2005, a major Ripken tournament was hosted at the Williams College Bud Anderson Field.
Williamstown is slated to host this year's "Wood Bat Classic," a Ripken event that snubs aluminum baseball bats in favor of wooden bats.
"This is really a lot of fun," Wadsworth said. "It's kind of a throwback to the old days, when all there was was wooden bats."
Practices are set to begin in April and a Berkshire region Ripken season opening parade is expected to be held in Williamstown. A specific date is not yet scheduled, but the parade is likely to occur at the end of April, Wadsworth said.
There are presently over 30 chartered Ripken leagues that include over 70 Western Mass. communities, according to information provided by Wadsworth.
The Ripken State Commissioner is James Edelman of Monterey. Edelman founded the first Berkshire region Ripken charter in 1999 with creation of the South County league.
According to information provided by Wadsworth, Edelman is interested in investigating opportunities for Pittsfield to host a Ripken state-level tournament during 2006.
"We Want Them To Keep Coming Back"
Wadsworth said that he is pleased and excited about the regional interest in Ripken division play.
"We are about the kids," he said. "It's no fun to sit out all the games on a bench. Ripken is about playing the game and having fun. That's the way to keep kids going, to get them playing and not giving up after a year or two. We want them to keep coming back."
Further information about the Cal Ripken Division may be acquired by contacting Wadsworth at 413-458-4821 [home], 413-652-9014 [cell phone] or at a BarryWadsworth1@aol.com e-mail address.
Edelman may be reached at 413-528-0006.
Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-823-9367.