The baseball season ended locally with the state final loss by the Mifflin County Babe Ruth 15-year-olds, perhaps opening the door for a few questions about America's pastime.
The first was asked previously, mentioned in passing in a discussion of Ray Wilde. Actually, it was less a question than an observation: "The fact that the state organization has allowed District 7 to fester to the point that there are only two viable leagues is ridiculous."
There are a lot of reasons there are fewer competitors regionally in Babe Ruth. Undoubtedly, Mifflin County's success plays a role - leagues have changed affiliation so they can compete in a meaningful way in youth baseball's postseason. The simple fact is, the marketing machine that is Little League has cut into an age group that it once overlooked, and along with Babe Ruth, organizations such as VFW Teener, PONY and American Legion's junior program compete for the same age group each summer.
Babe Ruth has one advantage, and I don't think it markets that advantage well: more age groups. Most of the others offer two or three levels between ages 13 and 18, but Babe Ruth offers its youngest players four age groups to compete in (with a single level above age 15). So, in nearby Juniata (Little League) and Huntingdon (VFW) counties, players between the ages of 13 and 15 have fewer opportunities to play, especially on the all-star teams that represent their leagues.
On the positive side, Babe Ruth is overshadowed by the sluggish pace at which the organization adopts change. A good example is the fact that only recently has Babe Ruth changed its mercy rule to prevent the 40-run margins that we've seen too often in District 7 tournaments involving Mifflin County (gee, and you wonder why another league might not want to play in those games). Keeping the districts intact when they obviously are failing shows a need for better leadership in the Babe Ruth organization.
Where the Babe Ruth organization has succeeded locally is because of its unification - there is one Babe Ruth league for the county, and it has plenty of opportunity for everyone who wants to play, at least in the regular season. The league tends to be run by people whose interest is not conflicted for personal reasons, there is a greater level of consistency.
That doesn't mean the league couldn't be cut by a few teams - its own reorganization could be as beneficial as one to the state, which would make the league season more competitive.
The same can not be said for the Little Leagues in Mifflin County. We could, by now, consolidate Big Valley Little League and Mifflin County Youth Baseball. Why the two leagues do not seem inclined to merge can probably be described thus: My kid might have to sit on the bench a little more.
The two leagues have not enjoyed the same level of success of late as Babe Ruth in the all-star period, and a lot of that seems to be that other leagues around us are merging, or at least taking advantage of opened up rules from Williamsport that allow wider recruiting. Ask around as to why Bellefonte seems to be dominating District 5 these days - it wasn't that many years ago that local teams were in state tournaments.
Since the high school merger, it seems inevitable that the two will play as one. Why not now?
My real pet peeve around youth baseball has nothing to do with the baseball, or the administration. It's with adults and a bad habit they can't seem to give up even for a couple hours around our youngest citizens.
Yes, I am talking about smoking.
Scholastic sports facilities are non-smoking, but that designation isn't applied to too many civic fields used by Babe Ruth and Little League. Of course some are, and it's ignored anyway - the smokers were right under the "Lungs At Play" sign at Freedom Park in Drums, where the Babe Ruth 15-year-old state tournament was played.
It's time for Little League, Babe Ruth and the other sanctioning bodies to act, demanding a clean-air policy at the fields where their flag is flown.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.