BASEBALL: Bemidji Youth Baseball officials concentrate on fun, fundamentals
BEMIDJI — The essence and simplicity of baseball was on display Tuesday morning at the Bemidji Youth Baseball complex.
It’s the same game that youngsters have improvised for more than 100 years but each time kids head to the diamond the rules of the game are altered to accommodate the number of players who brought their gloves.
“Catch it Joey!” the fielder pleaded to the pitcher after the batter popped a pitch to the mound. “Good catch. Now I’m up.”
As the game continued the players rotated jobs so that everyone on the field could have a taste of what the different defensive positions require. Even if they didn’t realize what was going on, the young players were learning how to play baseball. And they were having fun.
While the boys were improvising on that field, similar lessons were being learned on three other diamonds where T-Ball games were being played. As was the case in the pick-up game, the T-Ball players were switching defensive positions, hitting, running and throwing and, most importantly, enjoying their time on the diamond.
“We have about 12 players on a team and every inning we go through the batting order so every kid gets to run the bases every time,” said Tom Revering, who is one of the coaches helping to orchestrate the youth games. “At the T-Ball level nobody makes an out and we don’t keep score. T-Ball is played strictly for the fun of the game and to learn the basics.”
Revering is one of about 15 coaches and interns who work with the approximately 250 kids who take part in the day league baseball divisions. The developmental leagues, where coaches do the pitching and scores are not kept, include T-Ball for the five and six-year-olds, and Pony League for players who are seven and eight.
When players reach nine years of age they are elevated to the afternoon Minor League where most of the rules of baseball, including three strikes, four balls and three outs, apply. The players also pitch and scores are kept.
“The purpose of our day leagues is to develop baseball skills and knowledge of the game,” said Kevin Murphy, the commissioner of the day league activities. “But above all, our purpose is to make sure the kids have fun. We want them to have a positive experience so they will enjoy baseball and come back each year.”
In the T-Ball and Pony League divisions the coaches take nothing for granted. They don’t assume that the players know how to grip a bat, how to swing or even which way to run after they make contact with the ball.
“During the first week we dedicate different fields to different aspects of the game and the kids spend time at all of the fields,” Revering said. “After the first week we divide the players into teams and play ball but we do have 15 minutes of instruction before we start to play.
“It’s fun to see the progress that the kids make,” Revering continued. “It is a great feeling for the coach as we see the players improve and advance to the next level.”
Ultimately, the youngsters will continue to advance all the way to the high school varsity and Bemidji High School coach Mike Fogelson will be the first to tell anyone who asks how his program benefits from Bemidji Youth Baseball.
“We have one of the best youth baseball programs in the state,” Fogelson said. “Other programs are parent driven and there is no consistency in the coaching or within the organization.
“But, with Bruce Dahlin (BYL president) and Moe Webb (BYL treasurer), and others we have tremendous leadership. And, as a result, there is a steady line of quality players coming into the high school program. Bemidji Youth Baseball is our ultimate feeder system and we are very lucky to have it.”
Murphy also feels fortunate to be involved with youth baseball. He was a coach last year but this summer the senior education major at BSU was elevated to the day league commissioner.
“Creating an atmosphere of learning is what I want to do and that’s what I’m doing here,” he said. “Each and every coach we have has good baseball knowledge and knows what he is doing. And you definitely can tell as you go through the year that the kids are learning and are getting better.
“I’m from Longville and we didn’t have much of a youth baseball program but Bemidji’s is impressive,” Murphy continued. “Moe and Bruce have developed a very good youth baseball program and have put in lots of time and effort to make it work. And it is working very well.”
“The people involved in Bemidji Youth Baseball are dedicated and the high school program is proud to be working with these people,” Fogelson said. “This year we were happy to help facilitate the tryouts for the nine to 12-year-old players. Our guys wore their uniforms to those tryouts and we were eager to help out.
“Every time you go to the (Mark Evenson Memorial Fields) you see a couple of hundred kids playing baseball and we are blessed to have that. Those couple of hundred kids are there because of the dedication of those involved in youth baseball. And Bemidji is lucky to have them.”
Because of Bemidji Youth Baseball, its leaders and its coaches, Joey was able to catch that pop fly and his buddy was able to grab a bat, step into the box, wrap a ground ball past the infielder and run to first base.
Every kid should join Joey and his buddies and play baseball every day. And in Bemidji, with the help of Bemidji Youth Baseball, every kid can.