Older baseball players find new home in Babe Ruth League

DOVER — The game remains the same for area baseball and softball players.

The older ones will chase a different prize this season, however.

Little League International eliminated its Big League program for 17- to 18-year-olds in August 2016, citing the small number of players relative to resources invested.

Local baseball leaders plotted a path forward that led them to the Babe Ruth League program.

“We didn’t want those kids not to be able to play this year,” said Dover’s Jim Pappas, who connected with the Babe Ruth League last fall to start a new organization.

This season, Dover-based Central Delaware Baseball/Softball and Harrington Babe Ruth will join six in-state leagues north of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal and compete for the same state championship.

Dover and Harrington thrived in the past two Little League baseball seasons, each qualifying for the Big League World Series.

“Little League International made the decision for us,” Mr. Pappas said.

“It was disappointing, but there was no other choice. Babe Ruth has a similar track and there’s still opportunity for advancement.”

There’s still plenty of softball and baseball to play — Harrington plans a 16-game regular season, with all games played on weeknights beginning June 1.

The Babe Ruth League programs here are open to players ages 15- to 18, and those eligible to participate in the Little League Senior Division can do that as well.

The new local leagues plan to field three to four teams during the regular season. Harrington’s Matt Berardicelli said 25 baseball players are currently signed up, and he expects that number will double in the coming weeks.

With no residency boundaries in the Babe Ruth League, Mr. Berardicelli said roughly half the signups so far came from Felton or Harrington. Seven or eight players from Camden joined, along with three from Milford.

Individual players or teams can join the leagues. The cost per player is $115 in Dover, $110 in Harrington.

Two paid umpires will be on the field for all games.

All-star teams from both new leagues will compete in the state tournament.

Dover games will be played on a field behind Schutte Park, while Harrington is set for the field off U.S. 13 and behind the Harrington Moose Family Center Lodge #534.

Describing Babe Ruth officials as “very easy to work with,” Mr. Berardicelli said “they’re being flexible with us and understand that we have challenges that a new league will have early on.”

At last report, the Babe Ruth League had 1,009,825 participants worldwide, 56,970 teams, 9,780 leagues and 1,400,000 volunteers, according to the organization.

For more information on the Dover Central Delaware Babe Ruth League, email centraldelawarebr@yahoo.com or centraldelawarebr@gmail.com or call Jim Velazquez at 363-4715,

Harrington signups are scheduled from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday at the Harrington Little League complex. For more information, call 469-0028.

After listening to local league volunteers and parents, the Little League Board of Directors decided to eliminate one teenage division – Big League.

Big Leaguers accounted for less than .5 of Little League players overall, and participation hadn’t changed much at all the past 15 years, officials said.

“In recent baseball and softball participation studies, participation peaks around age seven, where most children are participating in just one organized program,” Little League International explained on its website.

“Focusing on the youngest divisions of play, where participation in a community program is at highest level, Little League will be able to provide more resources, training and skill development for those just learning to love the games of baseball and softball.”

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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