Last year, the Bradford Minor Baseball Association re-introduced hardball for the first time since 2009. The response, from players and parents, was outstanding.
“It’s the Blue Jays,” said Shawna Miller, the association's junior convener. “Baseball got cool again. Baseball got fun again.”
This year, rookie ball tryouts – hardball for kids ages six to eight – drew 54 young players, vying for just 12 positions on the York-Simcoe travelling team under coach Steve Foley.
The kids came out for a two-day bootcamp at Joe Magani Park, where they were put through their paces – running bases, pitching, hitting, catching, throwing. Eight coaches in all volunteered to watch the kids in action, time their base-running, and use radar to evaluate the speed of their pitches.
At the end of the tryouts, only 12 would make the cut.
There might very well be enough kids good enough to make up a second team, Miller acknowledged. The limitation is coaching, she said. “If another coach was willing, it is definitely something we would entertain.”
The association is fielding a full roster of hardball teams, from junior rookie up to midget, including minor peewee rep and Mosquito Selects.
That does not mean that the association has given up on softball. “Our softball side hasn’t suffered,” said Miller, who is the convenor for both Blastball and T-ball. In fact, girls’ softball “is doing really well.”
Support from parents and sponsors has been a key factor in the success of recent baseball seasons. Some team sponsors have children playing in the sport, but many others “just want to support local kids” and their community.
That is not to say there are no challenges. A key issue is a shortage of ball diamonds, as interest in softball and hardball grows.
“It can be frustrating,” Miller admitted. “Our Blastball kids played on a school field because we didn’t have a diamond for them.” Sixty-four kids had turned out for the games.
And although Joe Magani Park has the diamonds, it is out of the way, located on the 11th Line far from shops and restaurants.
Coming out to watch the rookie ball tryouts were BWG Deputy Mayor James Leduc, and councillors Peter Ferragine and Gary Baynes. Baynes, who played competitive fastball in his younger days, was impressed by the turnout.
“It’s fantastic to see it sprout into hardball,” Baynes said, noting the kids have been inspired by the Blue Jays. “They can see their heroes on TV.”
“This is something special,” said Miller. “This is the future.”
For more information about the association and the Bradford Storm softball and hardball leagues, click here.