Minor ball gets inventive
The St. Catharines Minor Baseball Association felt it needed to think outside the batter’s box this summer.
With the COVID-19 pandemic shutting down regular activities, the association wanted to find a way to keep players engaged in the sport.
SCMBA development co-ordinator Matt Zimmerman and president Ryan Villers then remembered how much fun they had working out and playing in batting cage leagues in Niagara Falls, N.Y., when they were kids.
“We would go over the river to an indoor facility with cages and play against another teams,” Villers said. “They had a league and it was a lot of fun. We thought it would be fun to replicate that if we had our own league here.
“It’s something to be a complementary piece to the other programs we have.”
Villers and Zimmerman went to work on the old batting cage at Alex McKenzie Park. The cage has been in use for years and was in dire need of an update anyway.
The pair, with some help from a couple of other members of the SCMBA board of directors, went to work digging out weeds, adding about eight yards of stone dust and flattening the surface. New hitting mats were added, a portion of the cage was removed, and a new L screen added next to the pitching machine.
The new cage will permit teams to not only take batting practice, but also organize cage leagues with simulated games which see points awarded based on how far and where the ball is hit.
So far, the cage has been a hit.
“We had a couple of trial groups and they really enjoyed it. The kids who played it seemed to have a blast,” Villers said.
“It’s non-instructional and will give kids a chance to play and have some fun.”
Originally the idea was for teams to be chosen by the players but with the social distancing necessitated by the pandemic, the cage will only be used by one team at a time.
“The teams we have will use it and cycle through as a team,” Villers said. “They will get exposed to the game and enjoy that and hopefully ramp up the excitement for next year where we can hopefully run it as a league.
“This year we’ve had a few little complications to go with it.”
Villers said he expects the cage league to be part of the regular program offered by SCMBA going forward.
“In a normal season, we would have it as a fall option after house league ends in mid-August and rep teams end Labour Day,” he said. “We haven’t had anything in the fall, only tryouts. This is something new, which is another benefit.”
Registration for this season is just wrapping up and the association is putting together teams for a tentative start date of this weekend at the house league level. Villers expects teams at the rookie, mosquito, peewee, bantam and midget house league levels along with rep teams in peewee, minor rookie and minor mosquito. Rep teams are already playing games against other centres who have teams.
Villers said he is also hopeful of arranging some house league games with teams in Thorold.
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