Success in Little League baseball can be measured in a variety of ways.
When thinking about 2020, we will look back and probably consider just getting kids on a field as successful season.
After losing the end of their school year to COVID-19, the normalcy of playing baseball has been a welcomed and embraced distraction at Lincoln Field for the past month-plus.
The Marion Babe Ruth Baseball Association wraps up its 2020 season Friday night with the championships in its coaches-pitch and 12-and-under divisions. The season has been a bit of a sprint. Teams played 15 games – three per week – before this week’s tournament.
It’s taken a lot of hard work by lots of different people to make happen, but worth every minute according to commissioner Tino Mitchener.
“Even though this year’s been crazy, in the time I’ve been coaching I feel like this has been the most excited I’ve seen kids and parents,” Mitchener said just moments after his Firefighters team advanced to the championship with a win over Lions Club on Wednesday. “I think (the season) hit at the right time when everybody just needed a pick-me-up. What better pick-me-up than baseball. Baseball is the ultimate pick-me-up.”
“This was a much-needed thing for everybody’s physical, personal, spiritual or whatever well being,” he continued. “Baseball just brings everybody together. Look around and look at the kids all smiling.”
And there were mostly smiles as players, parents and other spectators walked to their cars and left the complex of diamonds around 10 p.m. Wednesday.
When the final game ends on Friday, Mitchener will have two seasons behind him in dealing with the challenges of running a youth baseball organization and its leagues. His efforts, bolstered by his wife Kerri Mitchener and two sons, AJ and Isaac, along with numerous sponsors, coaches and parents made the last two seasons possible.
It wasn’t an easy prospect in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’ve got to give my hats off to Tino for putting it together. He went to the board early in the season and he made it happen,” said Jason Clark, who’s Lions Club team fell to the Firefighters in the tourney semifinals. “Without him fighting for it, the boys wouldn’t have had a season at all. We had short season, but the season was electric. The entire season, every game was a nail-biter to the end and the kids played and had fun.
“They actually got get off the couch and were not in the house all day long all summer … it gave them something to do,” he added. “Ive got to give it to Tino for working really hard to actually bring it all together.”
Mitchener’s appreciation and gratitude is spread around to many people in Marion and Grant County.
“The sponsors you see on the team hats and the ones you see on the banners around here, we could not do any of this without (sponsors),” he said, noting the league’s only other income streams were from minimal player fees and concession stand revenue, which mostly paid for umpires.
“There’s a lot of people behind the scenes: coaches coming out here and donating their time and the parents. I’m asking these parents to come out and play three games a week, that means laundry,” Mitchener added.
“Everybody has been committed. Not one team had to forfeit because they didn’t have enough players. Parents have made the commitment to get the kids’ (uniforms) clean and get them out here. You have to give a hats off to them.”
Mitchener is also appreciative for the kids that used a summer of uncertainty to hone their baseball skills. Competitive spirit, good attitudes and effort led to a season full of fun and improvement, which is the whole point of little league baseball to start.
“I’ve got 13 kids on the team and everyone of them has drastically improved either with the bat, the glove or both. (Also) Mentally,” Mitchener said.
“I was looking at all three leagues, just a handful of run-rule games. Everything has been two or three run games. every single game, every single league,” he said. “That’s when you’ve got good baseball. Everything is real competitive down to the last out and that’s when people learn. People don’t learn anything from 20-0 blowouts. I’m real happy with the way all the leagues turned out.”
Professional Home Solutions upset regular-season champ, Rolling Meadows, to win the 10-and-under tourney on Wednesday. Dynamite Building Maintenance faces 5-Star Salon and Barber Shop at 6 p.m. in the 8-and-under coaches pitch title game and Mitchener’s Firefighter team will meet STAR Financial at 8 p.m. in the 12U championship game on Friday.
Regardless of the outcomes in the championship games, the 2020 baseball season has been a success for everyone involved at Lincoln Field.
“Successful, yes. Not the ending we wanted but the kids I think had a great time,” Clark said. “They all improved. It was a success in getting them out here and playing baseball. Not the ending we wanted, but you know, there’s always next year.”