Baseball Ontario held its Special AGM on Saturday in Cambridge. This meeting was scheduled in response to the many questions about the direction that the province should be taking in regards to Midget level baseball. Midget is for players between 15-17 years old.
The belief by many in the province is that non-profit Midget baseball is being destroyed by for-profit Elite teams that are luring players and parents away from the local baseball associations. They believe they are offering false promises of better coaching and athletic scholarship opportunities.
The consensus is that a few of these private programs do offer a higher calibre coaching and viable post-secondary opportunities while the majority are simply a private business preying on people's unrealistic views of their own talent level.
There was a lengthy discussion that was primarily focused on the relationship between Baseball Ontario and the Premier Baseball League of Ontario (PBLO). Agreements were made in the past to help protect Baseball Ontario's athletes from being taken by the PBLO. Some feel these agreements are being violated. Some feel the agreements are not strong enough. Some believe there should not be an agreement at all.
I am of the belief that the agreements don't matter.
I guess it is understandable that many would like to fix the issue of declining Midget registrations by trying to create a "quick fix".
A committee and the Board of Management had the task of creating a new model for Baseball Ontario. A model that would in essence compete against the PBLO by allowing teams to be formed with the best players from around the province.
A constitutional amendment would need to be made that would allow players to go to these teams without needing a release from their local baseball association.
The thought was that these teams could charge far less for similar programming offered by Elite teams. This would entice players to remain with Baseball Ontario.
This is a band-aid solution trying to solve the bleeding out of midget players.
My issue with this philosophy is that the diagnose is wrong.
Midget level baseball is not being destroyed by Elite programs. That is simply a fraction of the many other underlying issues.
Some of these issues can't be contended with. 15-17 year olds get jobs, girlfriends and find other interests in life. Constitutional amendments can't change that.
What Baseball Ontario and its members need to focus on is the real diagnose. The solution that has taken Sport Canada and Baseball Canada years to research and develop. They have done all the work for us and now all we need to do is to read and listen.
Without getting back into the debate about Long Term Athletic Development, I am going to simplify it down to its basic terms.
1) Early levels of baseball need to focus on developing skills before playing games. Baseball Ontario must standardize this process and provide labour, funding and resources to get associations enacting this. Baseball is only fun when you can play it.
2) Early levels of baseball need to groom parents to be coaches. Teach them organization, the importance of mentoring in a community and basic baseball fundamentals. Baseball Ontario must give local associations a developmental structure that shows how Rep baseball can assist in grooming these parents.
3) Teach the children to throw the ball properly before the age of 8. Baseball Ontario must make all associations accountable to their programming. If a local association doesn't want to change that is fine. However, they won't be eligible for the assistance that other associations are receiving.
4) As the children enter pitching, the previous focus on throwing has produced better pitchers. Making Mosquito level baseball more enjoyable and retaining families. Hitting skill is increased because players get a pitch to hit.
5) When the Rep teams are selected in Rookie Ball, the remaining players in house league still have better skill than before because of the development programs from 4-8 years old.
6) After moving to Rep, the coaches must continue to volunteer in the house league system. Again, this is a structure and strategy that Baseball Ontario needs to provide all locals.
7) There is a higher player retention in Peewee and Bantam because parents and players enjoy a well played game.
8) As the children age and mature, the continued focus on development in house league has allowed these players to be capable of playing Rep once puberty has changed their lack of athleticism.
9) As players decide to move to Elite level teams, there is a larger supply of adequately skilled players to fill in at the Midget level.
10)Baseball Ontario and the PBLO work together to train coaches at the Rookie, Mosquito and Peewee levels so that even lesser skilled players will have a chance to improve with better coaching.
This is only a worse case scenario. I believe that with increase player registration and player retention, local associations will have more money to build affordable programs that can in fact compete with the elite leagues.
The membership of Baseball Ontario voted against making any changes right now. However, that doesn't mean that we are going to allow the same dysfunctional structure to exist.
Now is not the time to make an elite level Midget program. Now is the time to plan for an elite level Midget program for the years 2018-20.
It is simply a basic concept of physics. If you want something to be strong at the top, you must build a strong base at the bottom.
I look forward to encouraging and working with all baseball people in this province to plan, prepare and execute a strategic plan that will grow the game at all levels, elevate our elite players to professional status and create a legacy for Baseball Ontario that will resonate all across Canada.