Woodbury youth baseball: New era begins SundayThis Sunday, it’ll be a whole new ballgame in Woodbury, as the first Woodbury Area Little League season begins under the lights of Bielenberg Sports Complex.
By: Patrick Johnson, Staff Writer, Woodbury Bulletin
This Sunday, it’ll be a whole new ballgame in Woodbury.
The first Woodbury Area Little League season begins Sunday, May 1, under the lights of Bielenberg Sports Complex. Games will be at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Joe Griesgraber, the current WAA traveling baseball director, said he hopes to make it a fun weekly event for the community.
“We’re going to have a P.A. system, things like a game of the week, home run hitting contests and stuff like that,” Griesgraber said. “This is the first official Sunday night game we’ll be playing. The idea is to give the kids an opportunity to go out and play sandlot ball — play positions they wouldn’t play on their traveling teams and to have some fun. We also want to combine the Woodbury and East Ridge kids so it isn’t so much of an us-versus-them sort of thing. We’re all still neighbors.”
Back in December, The Woodbury Athletic Association and East Ridge Athletic Associations unanimously voted to form a combined Little League baseball program for kids 12 years old and younger.
According to Griesgraber, chief reasons for forming a unified Little League program include standardizing league rules, new post-season opportunities — including the famous televised regional and national tournaments — and to curb some extremism taking place in the youngest age groups.
In addition to combining into one entity, Griesgraber said, back in December, he hoped to quash some of what he termed “craziness” taking place in the past. Griesgraber claimed past issues with player selection, recruiting and how teams are managed.
Griesgraber said, among other things, he has witnessed 10-year-old teams play 72 games from May 10 to the third week of July, heard about a coach recruiting a first-grader and knew of teams at the 10-year-old level that would play kids at only one position year-round.
“The whole idea is to make it fun,” Griesgraber said in December. “We want to dial it back a little bit. I’ve seen things that have been way too over-the-top and way too die-hard. I’m hopeful that this will allow kids to play positions they don’t normally play and develop other skills.”
Woodbury and East Ridge ball players over the age of 13 will continue playing for either the WAA, the ERAA or the Woodbury Youth Athletic League. Also, in year No. 1, the Woodbury Area Little League will merely supplement the already-established leagues at the traveling level and Woodbury and East Ridge players 12-and-under will remain in the WAA, the ERAA or the WYAL.
The biggest change in the league’s first year will come at the In-House level, where all teams and players will now play under the Woodbury Area Little League umbrella.
Griesgraber believes that the area traveling programs may also begin operating under the Little League program as soon as the summer of 2012.
The Woodbury Area Little League will be broken into two divisions — the American League and the National League.
The American League will be comprised from players out of the WAA and ERAA traveling programs. Because the traveling-level players will already be playing full practice and game schedules through their associations, the American League will be a once-a-week event, with a double-header on Sunday nights at Bielenberg.
The National League, however, will completely take over for the current WAA, WYAL and ERAA In-House programs — which will no longer be offered.
The new Little League program puts all of the In-House ball players in the Woodbury, south Maplewood, East Ridge high school areas (including Newport and a portion of Cottage Grove) under one program from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and families and kids will no longer must decide between playing in the WAA, ERAA or WYAL.
At the end of the year, the league will form two all-star teams that will compete for the Little League World Series. Kids who play at least 60 percent of the games will all be eligible to play on a Little League World Series team if they play at least 60 percent of the games.
Griesgraber said he felt Woodbury had a good chance to reach the Little League World Series regional tournament in Indianapolis.
“I don’t want to jinx it, but I think we have a legitimate chance at fielding a team that could get to the regional tournament, at least,” Griesgraber said.
Griesgraber said about half as many kids are currently registered to play in the new league, but he said he was confident it would grow in the future.
“I think there was a certain amount of unknown about it,” he said. “But, once people see what this is going to be and the fun factor to it, I fully believe it will pick up in the future. It’ll be a lot of fun.”