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Marion baseball rebuilding from little league up

BY SCOTT HUNT - shunt@chronicle-tribune.com

The winds of change are blowing through the sport of baseball in Marion and the hopes are it will translate to success for the Giants’ baseball program in coming days and years.

Change came to the high school program earlier this fall when Mark Fagan was named head coach and Blake Hancock was named assistant head coach, but both men, along with a group of others have ushered in change at the youth level.

Marion Youth Baseball, Inc. is now defunct and kids that sign up to play Lincoln Field Little League this summer will do so under the banner of Marion Babe Ruth Baseball Association, Inc. Fagan, Hancock, new commissioner Tino Mitchener and the organization’s board members have plans to jumpstart the building process at the ground level. 

“We haven’t had a winning baseball team in 20 years, since 1998 so we’re going on 21 seasons,” said Mitchener, a former Giant and current Marion firefighter. “There is a direct correlation between that and (little league), I don’t care what anybody says, there just is.”

Lincoln Field had just six teams of nine-to-12 year olds last summer and numbers have been declining for several years. 

The first step in the plans is to separate into two leagues, 9-and-10s and 11-and-12s, simply hoping to get more field time for all the kids that want to play.  

“We lose a lot of the kids that are younger, the nine and 10s, that don’t want to play against the (bigger kids) when they were that young,” Fagan said. “I think with having that nine-and-10 year old league we’re going to keep some of the kids around that are good athletes.”

But its more than just the baseball for Mitchener, its the attitude about baseball and the behavior of the spectators that he’s seen while coaching his own sons that have him concerned.

Last summer, there were fights and arrests at the ballpark, parents verbally abusing umpires and coaches, with at least one of the confrontations happening on the field during a game. Mitchener said that behavior is intolerable and will not be accepted from here on. 

“A lot of the umpires were getting abused by the fans and they aren’t getting paid enough to take that kind of abuse,” Mitchener said. “We’re going to stop that. The umpires have to know that we have their back and we’re not going to allow that. We’ve got to get the trust back and make it fun for the kids.

“It starts with the attitude. Anybody who steps foot out there is going to be on their best behavior or they just won’t be there,” he added. “The kids aren’t the problem, it’s the parents and the coaches. We’re starting fresh from here. We’re going to offer more games and zero tolerance of being negative towards anybody. We’re not going to let parents be mean to kids or umpires or coaches be mean towards each other. We are going to start acting like adults, that’s the easy way to put it.”

Mitchener wants to implement a 16 to 20 game season, instead of the 10 that’s been used the past several summers.

There are also plans in the works to have some Saturday clinics, with high school players or perhaps even some college players to help teach the young players fundamentals. 

The Marion Babe Ruth Baseball Association board is also busy trying to lineup coaches and umpires for the coming summer, and umpires will have to be certified to work games. Mitchener also understands he and the board can’t do it alone. 

“We’ve got all the names of all coaches from last year and reached out to other people who didn’t coach,” Mitchener said. “What I’d like to do is to have anybody interested in coaching reach out to me so we can bring them in and I can let them know the expectations for coaches and umpires. We need help from the community, anybody that’s willing to help and wants to get involved.”

Since the Marion Babe Ruth Baseball Association is starting over from scratch, fundraising is one of the first things that has to happen and they’ve drafted letters to send to local businesses seeking help in raising the estimated $75,000 to get things going and going strongly.

The initial year’s budget includes equipment needed to take care of the diamonds, including pony league and softball, as well as essentials such as baseball/softballs, catcher’s gear, batting helmets, concessions, insurance, fees and uniforms. Funds will also be used to pay umpires and Mitchener would like to have at least eight for the summer.

“The second year (the budget) will probably be half,” Mitchener said. “The only thing I’m expecting to be out there is the fields and the fences. We are reaching out to the community to help us re-start this. This is grass roots. We’re starting from scratch.”

Last year Lincoln Field’s concession stand was shut down because of a health code violation with no hot, running water, another unacceptable part of little league baseball.

“Every year you see something getting taken away from those kids that they deserve, last year they didn’t have concession stands,” said Kerri Mitchener, Tino’s wife and also a board member, “Marion gets a bad rap but there are still good people here.  I think Marion is on the verge of something big, something changing. We have to invest in our kids, that’s what it takes.”

Tino Mitchener understands he and his group have a big task ahead, but are ready to put in the work. He also said that people who donate will know exactly where their dollars are going to go.  

“We’ve got to get the trust back in the community. With the people we’ve got on the board, we have people on there they know and trust,” Tino said. “If somebody wants to know where a dollar is, it’s going to be trackable, it’s going to be transparent. If somebody says they want to give $500 to go out and buy baseballs, by god were gong to go out and do that.” 

There are three ways to donate: online at GivetoGrant.org/BabeRuth; or checks mailed to The Community Foundation of Grant County, 505 W. 3rd Street, or to Mitchener at 1505 N. Matter Park Road, Marion, 46952. Checks should be payable to the Community Foundation of Grant County memo Marion Babe Ruth Baseball Association.