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Building village baseball

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INSTRUCTION: Tino Mitchener (center) coach his Marion 12-and-under all star team in a Cal Ripken district tourney game in Bunker Hill earlier this week. Mitchener has been at the center of starting to rebuild Marion High School baseball’s feeder system this spring.
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Scott /shunt@chronicle-tribune.comVILLAGE ASSITANCE: Sponsors banners hang from a backstop at Lincoln Field during the first summer of the Marion Babe Ruth Baseball Association.
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VILLAGE ASSITANCE: Sponsors banners hang from a backstop at Lincoln Field during the first summer of the Marion Babe Ruth Baseball Association.

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

T he ancient proverb states, “It takes a village to raise a child.”

It’s truth transcends time and cultures, and is perhaps more important today than at in any point since the words were first profoundly spoken.

Tino Mitchener is bringing that proverb to life in Marion using baseball and softball fields as his means.

I’ve known Tino for quite some time but have really got the chance to learn about his passion for baseball and for helping kids over the past few months.

As a husband, father of two boys and a firefighter, Mitchener had a lot of his time spoken for before starting the Marion Babe Ruth Baseball Association last winter and becoming its commissioner.

Starting a little league program basically from scratch is no small task, but it was a challenge Mitchener, his wife Kerri and sons AJ and Isaac wanted to pour themselves into.

With the fields and concession stands is disrepair, raising funds was as big a necessity as signing up kids for the new experience of Lincoln Field Little League.

Mitchener formed a board then created a new 9-10 year old league, and 11-12 year old league and a fastpitch softball league for 9 to 12 year olds. Building a feeder system back into place for Marion baseball as its main objective, and teaching future Giants important life lessons along the way.

Summer isn’t over yet at Lincoln, but Mitchener his first year “far exceeded my expectations.”

Mitchener was coaching his Marion 12-and-under all stars in the Cal Ripken district tourney in Bunker Hill on Friday night. Lincoln will also once again host the Fireman’s Tourney at the end of July, but none of what he’s done this summer couldn’t have taken place without support from the village, from Marion.

Mitchener said they raised about $50,000 in three months with business like Vectren, TCC, QC Communications, Round Robin Bingo, Huhtamaki and many others making generous donations.

“We would not have been able to operate if it wasn’t for businesses like them that came through for us,” Mitchener said. “We just couldn’t do it. ... The money we make off registration fees is not that much and our overhead is a lot with paying umpires and stuff like that, we would not be able to do it without these businesses.”

Advertising banners hang from the backstop of the most prominent diamond at Lincoln Field, but the driveway and playing fields hold a big time donation.

“Vectren came out and did the heavy lifting, brought dozers and earth movers and eight guys and re-graveled the road, leveled off the fields, painted,” Mitchener said. “With basically just me, my wife and my kids doing all the maintenance we just don’t have the means to do that.”

Mitchener hopes his work this summer will lead to a restored interest in Marion baseball and more opportunities in the future.

“I think the community had lost a little bit of faith in Lincoln Field over the last few years,” he added. “I think there was a lot of businesses that probably didn’t want to donate out there.

“They really went on a leap of faith, basically went on my word that I committed to make it a better place,” Mitchener continued. “I appreciate those guys for taking my word for it and I was not going to let them down. We hope that they continue to help these kids and we need it.”

Mitchener now has mowers he can use for several years, a concession stand and a rejuvenated excitement around little league in Marion. He also hired a dependable set of umpires, many former high school and college players, and plans to get them all IHSAA certified over the winter to possibly open more doors for them. “I wanted to pay my umpires at least the going rate, pay them bottom of the barrel then you’re constantly looking for people,” Mitchener said. “You’re level of baseball goes down too. ... You have to pay people good to keep them. If you’re a young person and you want to umpire the sky’s the limit because there’s not a lot of the out there.”

With summer is winding down in the first year of the Marion Babe Ruth Baseball’s rebirth, Mitchener’s vision for the future at Lincoln Field remains, with both short and long term goals.

He mentioned scoreboards for all the fields as one of the short term objectives. Mitchener wants to add some batting cages where kids can warm up by taking swings before games.

Eventually he’d like to have an indoor batting facility built so kids can take cuts when its raining or cold.

And most importantly, he wants to see more kids and more teams in all of Lincoln Field’s leagues every spring.

“We’ve still got a long ways to go. The first year we had to do a lot of infrastructure type stuff, a lot of things that were in disrepair,” Mitchener said. “We spent a lot of money on bathrooms and concession stands and maintenance type stuff, hopefully thats stuff we wont have to spend on next year and we can spend money on upgrades.

“The biggest goal this year was to change the attitude and make kids excited about it and I definitely think we accomplished that,” he continued. “We want to really push girls softball, we had two teams, and we want to double if not triple that next year. The word of mouth is what’s going to happen, we need people to go out and tell other people they enjoyed it, get more girls to come out, more 9 and 10 year olds (boys) to come out and build it up.”