Smithfield: Sports

The kids of summer

Ian Newcomb lets a pitch that's a little too high pass by during a Greater Cleveland Athletic Association Sandlot League game at West View Elementary School.
Ian Newcomb lets a pitch that's a little too high pass by during a Greater Cleveland Athletic Association Sandlot League game at West View Elementary School.

In an age when scheduled and structured play dates have replaced the seemingly outdated practice of parents allowing their children to roam neighborhoods freely to play until the streetlights came on, a local baseball league is striving to recreate those summer memories for a new generation of boys and girls.

Sprouting from conversations Steven Dodds, a coach in the Coach Pitch division of the Greater Cleveland Athletic Association (GCAA), had with parents of other players in the league, the Sandlot League has taken root this summer to provide local kids a chance to do just that – be kids.

“We played into the summer and it was a blast,” said Dodds of the summers from his childhood when he and his friends would wear out base paths in his father’s backyard because of the frequent baseball games held there. “I made a lot of memories out there in the backyard with my friends so I wanted to give these kids an opportunity to start this out.

“Basically, I just wanted these kids to make memories out here and have a good time.”

So Dodds, with the help of some fellow coaches from the GCAA, scheduled 10 different dates this summer for a Sandlot League in which kids could come together whenever they and their families can arrange to play baseball.

Dodds sends an email out early in the week gauging interest for the following session.

Out of approximately 130 families on that list, on average 30 to 35 children between the ages of 5 and 8 years old have attended each session thus far allowing for two games to be played side-by-side either at West View Elementary or the baseball fields at the GCAA complex.

Because the GCAA is run solely by volunteers, a handful of coaches/parents are enlisted to help oversee each game this summer keeping track of balls, strikes, runs and outs. Dodds praised the “above and beyond” efforts of Darren McCartney and Ronnie Sharp in particular with getting and keeping the league running.

Other than those few volunteers, the rest is up to the players, which has helped the league reach its intended goal of providing a non-threatening atmosphere for kids to play baseball and have fun.

“He’s learning a lot because there’s not always a coach standing there hollering at him,” said Jody Johnson of his son, Carter. “He’s got to figure it out on his own. They’re teaching them a little bit, but it’s mainly just about letting them play.”

The games are held mostly on Saturday nights and start at 6:30 in an attempt to counter the high temperatures that often prevent children from playing organized sports during the summer days.

Another attraction of the league is its come-when-you-can policy.

No rigid schedules or time commitments are a nice change of pace for parents used juggling different activities and commitments during the spring and fall seasons.

“We like that they have it more unstructured,” said Courtney Philbrick, whose son Zander took part for the first time this summer on Saturday night. “They have it for the fun of it and whenever you can make it instead of something that’s scheduled every certain day of the week.”

Through the help of fellow volunteers and sponsors who helped raise enough money to allow the players of the Sandlot League to wear GCAA equipment, the league is off to a good start.

The only difference from a generation ago is that the game ends not when the streetlights begin to flicker on, but rather when the sun goes down.

“The main thing is I want is for the kids to have fun,” Dodds said. “I tell them to go out there, have a good time and keep your head up.

“That’s what baseball is all about for this age – having fun.”