Saturday was opening day for Tempe South Little League. We had almost 50 teams between T-ball and majors out there lined up beyond the fences.
This is my first year as little league president. In the past I’ve done the schedule, I run the website, and I coached my son Matt’s team – The Red Sox. Our Red Sox won two championships in the Minors. My first year in Majors we returned to the Championship game but came up short against the Angels, finishing second. My last year coaching majors we were horrible. My entire focus was on all stars and I spent no time thinking about the regular season. We did win the district all star championship however which was really fun.
So here I am, league president. I went from being a lunatic fringe competitive nut job (it’s a requirement to win at all stars) to being in the middle of the pack. The league president is responsible for the league as a whole. I have to be honest, my “middlest” was still eligible to play little league, he considered it, but I did not really want him to play because my job as president is much easier without having a horse in the race as they say.
A lot has happened this first year. Check this out. First the City pulls pushes us into the corner of the sports complex to benefit adult soccer over youth baseball. Then, our partnership with Rio brings unexpected “benefits“. They have a boundary dispute with not one but two other little leagues in two separate districts. So those district presidents call Western Region (Little Leagues governing body for Arizona) to complain that Tempe Little League is a “rogue” league recruiting out of their boundaries. We get a letter threatening to pull our charter. Nice. Welcome to the job Mr. President.
But that’s not all. For a variety of reasons, people don’t sign up early. With two weeks to go before showcase it looked like we would struggle to fill 7 major teams and 8 minor teams. Ten days later two hundred kids sign up. Now we are scrambling to add coaches and reschedule the season to go from 280 players to over 400.
Holy cow! We almost lose our fields, Western Region threatens to pull our charter, and we go from low enrollment to being over subscribed in just two weeks. Oh, and did I mention this league costs almost $100,000 to operate and that we have a $30,000 shortfall?
Despite all those challenges, all of the unexpected twists and turns, the strength of this league has always been, and continues to be the amazing volunteers. From Kevin Costigan, our intrepid player agent, Dan Crawford, co-fundraising chairman, Minors Director, Community Activist for little league, Manager and salesman extra-ordinary. Our past president Mark Gordan who took over uniforms and is generally one of the nicest most helpful people you would ever want to meet. There are the newcomers like Geoff Stanisec who has made equipment management and art. Our storage pod is organized like the kitchen at one of his restaurants. I swear you could almost eat off the floor in the storage shed. Jonathan Bodow who freed me from the schedule (thank you Jonathan!) And there are so many more; Jim Kenehan and Annette Bau, Stephen Gerl, Beth Ladley, Tom Brown, Kirk Busch, Shantel Foshie, Hal Allen, Nick Enoch, Ernest Cisneros, Jeff Unterkoffler… The list goes on and on. I apologize to everyone I have forgotten.
Back to opening day. As a personal goal, I wanted to see the competition level in the league improve. It’s strange. It is not something I can control directly. However, I felt that if I articulated a framework for people to believe in, and then let them run with it they could achieve my goal. On opening day, the first major game I watched was a 3-0 battle between the Red Sox and the Mariners. Both teams played error free baseball and both teams played a close game start to finish. Later, the Cubs and the Cardinals squared off for a classic 6-5 struggle. Again, the play was clean, the coaches composed and the fans electric. The Cubs came from behind to win on a walk off in dramatic fashion. Trailing by one run the lead off hitter belts a triple. The Cardinals pitcher bore down and struck out the next two batters. Wow! Baseball at its best. In the end the cubs batter hit a walk off single over the shortstops head. One of the coaches later said, “That was like a playoff game!”
Yes. It was a close hard fought battle with a playoff feel.
On opening day!
Now for me, that made it all worth it. Great kids playing great baseball. The distractions caused by adults are just background noise to the memories these kids will have for the rest of their lives. Jody Ackersly(Jackson) was our guest speaker and she has interviewed many famous baseball players and they call say that their favorite memories from playing baseball started at Little League. Little league is about the community pulling together, the coaches putting in the work, and the players playing.
While there will always be room for improvement, we put a priority on having a great player experience and so far, it looks like we are off to a very good start.