All Babe Ruth

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Andalusia’s Department of Leisure Services has extended registration one week for its youth softball and baseball leagues, all of which will play under the Babe Ruth banner this year.

The change means there are no geographic boundaries that would limit where an athlete plays, except among 13-15 year-old baseball players, and that could be an important factor in the selection of a team for the 2011 Babe Ruth Softball 12 and under World Series, which Andalusia will host next year.

“We want to make sure every girl in the county has an opportunity to play,” Dwight Mikel, director of leisure services, said. “We will have a local host team in the World Series games. Our interest is that we put the best team out there, and that we have impartial coaches who treat girls well.”

All of Andalusia’s teams are “South Alabama Babe Ruth” players.

In Cal Ripken baseball and Babe Ruth softball, the South Alabama teams’ boundaries are the county lines. In other words, anyone who lives in Covington County is eligible to register and play in the city leagues. In Babe Ruth baseball, the boundary lines are drawn by school districts.

Covington County’s softball teams also are Babe Ruth teams, as are the 13-15 year-old baseball teams. Boys 12 and under play Little League in the county league. In Opp, girls play Dixie League, boys 12 and under play Little League, and boys 13-15 play Babe Ruth.

Players in this year’s South Alabama Babe Ruth softball league will get some added opportunities in preparation for next year’s World Series, Mikel said.

“We’re planning some camps and clinics to help them with pitching, hitting and the speed game after the season ends,” he said. “We will allow all girls to participate in an extended tournament trail that will go in to the fall.”

The Department of Leisure Services is even working on securing the Covington Center Arena for some softball work in the cold winter months.

He also plans to offer similar opportunities for baseball players in the city league, he said.

Mikel said a number of things factored in to the decision to align all teams with Babe Ruth. One was that Little League last year began to refuse to accept the city’s general liability insurance. Another was that that program limits pitch counts for baseball.

“There are now more Cal Ripken leagues and teams in the state of Alabama than there are Little League teams,” Mikel said. “It’s just a good program.”

The decision was a two to three-year process, he said.

“One of the things we looked at was the rules for girls softball,” he said.

At the time, Wayne Sasser coached that sport at Andalusia High School and umpired in Andalusia’s Dixie League.

“We had him review the Babe Ruth softball rules and compare them,” Mikel said.

Sasser concluded that every change Babe Ruth would require more closely aligned the rules with the Alabama High School Athletic Association’s softball rules.

Mikel said he’s a bit concerned that fewer athletes are signed up to play this year.

“It’s not huge,” he said. “We’re just halfway through try-outs. But we’re a little concerned.”

Having fewer athletes limits the flexibility in numbers and strengths of teams, he said.

He believes there are a number of reasons for the decline.

The state is being hammered on all sides about obesity, he said, and especially childhood obesity.

“Kids are not as active as they were five years ago – not as active as they should be and as they once were.

“Those that are active are diving their time between sports, scouting, and the arts,” he said.

He said there also more sports opportunities.

“We can blame ourselves for running some simultaneous programs,” he said.

The team swimming schedule overlaps with baseball and softball, and youth tennis begins before baseball ends.

“We’ve also got youth golf going,” he said. “And we think these are important because they’re sports you can play for a lifetime.”

Having more moms in the workplace limits the ability to get kids to practices, he said.

“And like it or not, competitive travel teams hurt us, too.”

He said when parents sign their kids up to play with elite groups of athletes on travel teams, the city league program loses not only the players, but often the parents who would be volunteer coaches, as well.