NEW ULM - "We need to make these experiences for kids learning and fun experiences and not degrading all in the name of winning."
Those were the words of New Ulm Legion Gold assistant coach Bryce Boelter, who along with Gold head coach Bob Weier, both expressed their concern about the direction that New Ulm baseball is heading particularly in the youth program.
"There are a lot of kids quitting baseball at a very young age in New Ulm," said Weier, who is also the head high school baseball coach at New Ulm Cathedral. "That is a problem that has been discussed at the high school level and at the little league level. And it is a problem that the powers that be in the New Ulm Junior Baseball Association has recognized that problem and they are discussing it - they are trying to deal with it - there is a number of reasons why this is happening."
Weier said that one of the reasons is that there are not as many kids.
"Another problem, in no particular order is that some are electing to play other sports and another factor is that kids quit because they are not having fun," Weier said. "They are not given an opportunity to play baseball - some are labeled too soon on whether they are a good ballplayer or not. Some kids are good ballplayers right out of the chute while some kids are late bloomers.
"At the age of 10 or 11, if you are a good ballplayer and you are selected to those tournament teams, you seem to have that spot solidified," Weier said. "And the kids who are not selected and if they are not selected for a couple of years in a row, they begin to think why should I stick this out -these are the same kids that I am going to school with. I go to high school and I will not be playing that either so why stick it out?"
Weier said that at Cathedral his program gets players who want to pitch.
"But they have never been given a chance to pitch or they have been given a chance, have failed and are now shoved to the end," he said. "We found a couple of players who had never pitched and they did okay for us. The same thing goes for the Legion team the last three years - we are using kids who have thrown very little in high school but have been given an opportunity and have done okay for us."
New Ulm dropped Legion Blue this year because of a lack of numbers.
"That was a total shock to me." Weier said. "We knew that the numbers were kind of slim. We lose ballplayers every year. I think that it is essential for New Ulm baseball at the high school, legion and amateur level that the legion program has four teams - two VFW and two legion teams. In high school you need a team to cover all of the grades from 7-12 so that you can develop ballplayers. It hurts when you have a gap in there. Going down to one legion team is a huge detriment to New Ulm baseball - one program feeds the other."
"It not only effects the players who do not come out but think of the players who are out for these teams but because others did not come out they are missing those experiences," Boelter said. "Maybe they are pulled up or pushed down and they are not experiencing their chronical baseball education because of numbers that are not there. Sixth graders should learn the fundamentals of sixth grade and be prepared for seventh grade. Baseball is very chronological in skills just because of physical abilities and attributes that it takes to play this game."
Both Weier and Boelter are also surprised by the lack of baseball fundamentals when they arrive at the legion level.
"In the three years that we have coached Legion Gold, what we have done in practice and what we have organized and set before we have found out what the kids do not know about fundamental baseball," Boelter said. "Footwork and hand work and team play. There have been many occasions where we have introduced something, talked about it and go through it and the kids give us this blank look on their faces. Now we have to drop back and quite honestly we have to re-teach what years ago was probably taught in the eighth or ninth grade baseball level but has been skipped because of a lack of qualified practices where coaches do not know what to teach. When we get these players on the legion level we find ourselves dropping back in years trying to get them back up to speed. It makes coaching difficult to prepare kids for these situations when you have to drop back and teach them things they should have already known years ago."
Boelter said that there is a certain amount of knowledge that a person gains after high school baseball.
"Around here we are very local," he said. "Many of the coaches on the junior level are very local. We both attend baseball clinics and go to baseball seminars and we keep updated and studying the game of baseball. We try and pass on to kids what we think. In a nutshell, we are trying to make complete baseball players but there have been gaps skipped along the way."
Weier said that at the lower levels, he would like to see "a positive teaching-filled practice so the kids could learn and have some fun. That is hard to do. There is a wonderful indoor hitting facility here in New Ulm - the board that did that did a wonderful thing for the city but I am not sure it is being utilized to its fullest. And I do not know if I would at the ages of eight and nine use a pitching machine. I would use short toss."
"We need to have our program at the lower level be fun, learning and inclusive," Boelter said. "The one word that you do not see there is win. We need to teach, make better use of our facilities. I think that the New Ulm Junior Baseball Board should send out questionnaires to both parents and players and ask how do you feel this summer went, did you learn more about baseball and did you feel you were a part of a team atmosphere. None of this includes winning - it all involves about caring about the kids who come out about baseball because without them, you do not have a program, youth or amateur. Kids do not like to be made inferior at the youth level. We need to make these experiences fun experiences not degrading all in the name of winning."