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The Press Box For June 14

By Staff | Jun 14, 2017

The All-State Softball and Baseball teams have been announced. I read over them and saw some of the familiar names of our local school kids and it brought back memories of my playing days in the 1960s.

In Paden City we had a nice league. I don’t know when it first started but I would venture to say it was way before my time.

As a young boy growing up on the West Side of Cleveland, some of my memory takes me back to playing ball at the age of six or seven in the city school lots. At that time we could walk to the playgrounds and there were always kids to play with.

About a half mile away in Euclid Park along the shore of Lake Erie they played industrial league sandlot fast pitch softball games. It was one of my favorite things to do. Sneak away and go watch the games.

This past week as I made my way through the Parks of Sistersville, Paden City and New Martinsville and watched kids of all ages enjoying the same game, I thought where did this all start at.

I have heard tales of some of the old time adult softball players in the area from back in the twenties. It was just yesterday or so it seems I was coaching T-Ball and Little League.

Youth Baseball History, in America, actually began with the first recognized game played in 1846 between the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club and the New York Baseball Club, with the latter team winning 23-1 in four innings.

One truth that is undisputed is that baseball grew from a kids game and was played by children well before 1846. The same children who played baseball in open fields, back yards and street corners, grew up to play the game as adults and had children that would followed in their footsteps.

If I’m not mistaken a similar game was played by the native Americans years before we ever became a nation. There are many pictures that show the soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War, playing baseball to pass the time between battles.

Soldiers of the Continental Army played ball at Valley Forge during the American Revolution. So stories saying Abner Doubleday invented the game are generally discounted.

We seem to have it much better today with Aluminum bats, tougher balls and much better protective equipment. There was a time and not to long ago at that, when cast-off balls were taped and re-taped and catchers equipment in children’s sizes was almost non-existent.

I remember playing baseball as a kid and using broken axe handles or anything else we could find to hit the ball with, including broom sticks. We even made made are own baseballs out of stones wrapped with aluminum foil held together by electrical or duct tape.

It became a big thing when kids started getting nice equipment to use. We were used to old broken bats, torn up baseballs and worn out, discarded gloves. Nothing made us feel better than to get a new glove or bat. Baseballs were hard to come by and if you lost one you would gather a search party and hunt until it was found.

Youth baseball that is so popular among parents and grandparents today actually got its official beginning in 1938 when Carl Stotz came up with the idea for an organized baseball league for young boys in Williamsport, Pa. Their basic goal was to teach young ball players the fundamentals of sportsmanship, fair play and the concept of teamwork. Just like we are trying to do today.

From that early beginning, Little League Baseball has grown to be the most popular youth baseball program in the world. And even rivals the popularity of Major League Baseball itself.

Baseball continues to grow while many other sports are taking on the titles of “non-interest” due to to much showmanship and changes in rules. Baseball pretty much remains the same and there stands the old saying “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.”

Youth of all ages have many opportunities to enhance their skill’s and knowledge of the game. From the time the first official little league game was played in 1939 until the present, many different leagues have come into existence. T-Ball for the young kids started as a way to develop kids and familiarize them with the sport. Pony League Was formed in 1950 by the Pennsylvania YMCA.

What most people don’t know is the word was chosen with meaning, “Protect Our Neighborhood Youth” it was later changed to mean “Protect Our Nation’s Youth”.

Out of the Pony League sub leagues arose based on age groups. Shetland League ages (4-6), Pinto League (7-8), Mustang League (9-10), Bronco League (11-14), Colt League (15-16) and Palomino League (17-18).

Later on AAU Ball became a favorite as did American Legion. In some ares the Babe Ruth League was big for kids (13-18). It was formed in 1951 as a transition league for kids who had grown past the Little League age limit of 12 and an adult sized field was used. This was a huge move for kids from little league to professional sized fields.

It wasn’t long before nearly every high school was fielding their own teams and the leagues became perfect training grounds for high school coaches to find young talent.

Baseball continues to be a magical game with endless variations. The game is limited only by the imaginations of the kids who play it and it takes a kid to play it, no matter what their age.

Softball has become the preferred game for girls of all ages, and the skill of girls on the field is fast approaching that of boys baseball.

I am also impressed with the amount of kids now working even harder by becoming involved in club ball. It is a time consuming game but well worth the time and energy if it keeps one child off the street and away from the drug epidemic that has over run our communities.

All the local fields are filled up with teams from all over the valley playing in leagues. Paden City’s High School Team is competing hard and just this past week beat Parkersburg. Little League games are going on nightly so make it down to Paden City fields and take in a game or two. Nothing makes a kid play harder than a large cheering crowd. Middlebourne and Sistersville are also busy with at the ball fields and Sistersville once again has the co-ed adult softball league up and running.

Athletes are also hitting the weight rooms and out running to stay in shape. Cross country training is underway and soccer camp will finish up today. There’s a lot of opportunity for the kids to get involved, I hope they see the benefits and take advantage of them. eparsons@tylerstarnews.com