Negotiating Spokane’s youth baseball maze became much easier Wednesday with the click of a mouse.
The Spokane Indians unveiled a nonprofit collaboration with three youth baseball leagues that will set aside years of turf battles that often left parents and players frustrated.
The Indians have united Pony baseball, Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken and the baseball and softball divisions of the Spokane Youth Sports Association under the umbrella of Spokane Indians Youth Baseball. About 3,000 players are expected to compete in spring, summer and fall at various levels.
“Our whole goal is to unite the leagues under one brand, with one common way to sign up,” Indians senior vice president Otto Klein said. “There’s an instant level of credibility to the entire process.”
Starting Wednesday, prospective players could go to www. spokaneindians youthbaseball.org to start the registration process. The “register now” link reveals the multiple options available, including the SIYB’s Inland Northwest, Cal Ripken and Pony divisions.
“All the kids who played last year will have the same divisions available this year,” SYSA director Philip Helean said. “For the most part the teams and divisions will be similar, but the benefit is it will make it easier for parents when they go to one website.”
Helean said SIYB will maintain national affiliations for Pony and Babe Ruth, and teams will still have the ability to play in tournaments and have all-star teams.
Klein said the team’s initial goal was to create an Indians Little League. The Indians contacted Spokane Pony president Dana Richardson for advice and the Little League idea “morphed” into another concept.
Spokane Babe Ruth president Dan Peck was getting set to retire, so he was on board for the change.
“If there was a time to combine everything, it made sense to do it now, when all the people were in place,” Peck said.
Pony, Babe Ruth and SYSA had experienced strained relationships in the past as the groups competed for players and fields.
“The past history has been fragmented and scattered all over the board,” Klein said. “None of the leagues would talk to each other. (They would) fight for fields and have their own agenda.”
The united group came up with three main goals: make it easier for parents to get their kids involved in youth baseball/softball; work toward the development of new fields; and expand scholarships for kids who can’t afford to play.
“Most of the day-to-day playing for the kids won’t change that much,” Peck said. “But the ways things will run, for as large an organization as it is, will be fantastic.”
“Because of this, more kids are going to be able to play on better fields,” Richardson said. “We’re basically keeping everything the way it was before, but just under one umbrella. … Now it will be, ‘Where do you fit? Where does your team fit?’”
Richardson estimates that SIYB will ultimately need 12 new fields.
“I’d say we have zero true fields now,” he said. “Tri-Cities has two complexes that have six fields and we have nothing like that for 9- to 12-year-olds.”
New fields could allow Spokane to host large area tournaments that are presently staged in the Tri-Cities. The financial benefits to the community could be significant.
For now, Pony’s tournaments – Best in the Northwest, Cinco de Mayo and Memorial Day Super Bash – will continue. All are listed in the online registration.
SYSA will use its administrative expertise to smooth all registration processes and devise a schedule for umpires and fields.
The Indians will provide the brand name and organizational strategies. Klein said the venture contains no “selfish financial” benefits for the club, although the exposure will undoubtedly lead to players’ families purchasing tickets to Indians game.
Little League is not included under SIYB, but Klein said he spoke to league officials and they’re supportive of the new organization. Klein said some “legalities” may keep Little League from joining SIYB.