Baseball is back.
Opening Day for Ridge Meadows Minor Baseball saw 70 baseball teams in action at Pitt Meadows Athletic Park on Saturday, as a growing hardball association celebrated a new season.
“We are at 62 seasons, and going strong,” said minor ball association president Cornelius Temple.
That is, he clarified, the number of seasons that the association has officially been in existence. But organized baseball in the city has a legacy that goes back over 100 years.
Local historians say that before televisions invaded our homes, 5,000 fans would come out to see a ball game in Hammond.
Some of that hardball culture returned on the weekend.
This year the opening day games spilled over from the Pitt Meadows park, which was a hive of activity, into other diamonds around the community.
This year there are 78 teams in total – up from 64 last year. There are 770 kids registered to play ball, which is up from 690 last year, and from 540 in the 2012-2013 season.
“We’ve grown quite significantly,” said Temple. “We think baseball is a popular sport that’s coming back.”
One of the reasons for the growth is the association’s emphasis on getting kids into the action.
For many parents and kids raised on video games, there had been a criticism that baseball is too slow. Temple doesn’t argue that.
“It is slow. It’s slow at the major leagues, and they’ll try to fix that problem forever,” he said.
But the association is putting kids in the action by having just six kids on a team at the age four to six level. With two or three coaches on each team, there’s just two or three kids per coach.
“Now I can keep those kids engaged,” said Temple.
At that Rally Cap age group, three teams will meet on the field at a time for games. One team is always practising while the other two play an inning, and then they rotate.
“We make sure those kids aren’t standing out there watching,” said Temple.
Organizers and coaches also work at getting more hitting into the game.
“The more we put balls in play, the more action kids are going to see.”
“It can be boring, if you let it.”
Melissa Nisbet is the association’s special events coordinator and her job is to get families out enjoying the game. She invited community organizations from the Girl Guides and the public library to opening day, and put on a drive for the Friends in Need Food Bank that netted over 200 pounds of groceries.
“Let’s have baseball be a community event again,” is her approach.
She also coordinates with Hunger Management and other food trucks to get out to every double header and tournament that the association puts on.
The ball diamonds in Pitt Meadows were pumping on Saturday, with music blaring, mascots high-fiving and kids having fun.
They’re doing something right.
“Look at them,” said Temple. “You mix baseball with hot dogs and drinks and music, and other community amenities, and you get kids wanting to come out and enjoy themselves.”