Youth Baseball finds success with Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken

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Eric Schmoldt
Friday, August 15, 2014

JANESVILLE--Baseball enthusiasts may have taken in a Little League World Series game or two on television in recent weeks.

At the same time, several Janesville tournament baseball teams have been traveling the state and nation, finding success in tournaments of their own. The 13U team will open up play at the 2014 Babe Ruth World Series in Glen Allen, Virginia, on Saturday.

Don’t get the two confused, however, and don’t go flipping through the channels frantically looking for the local team as it plays over the next week.

Babe Ruth (for teenage baseball players) and its Cal Ripken Division (for younger players), the affiliations under which the Janesville Youth Baseball and Softball Association plays, are a different entity than Little League altogether.

While always playing under Babe Ruth, the organization shifted to Cal Ripken for the younger players about five years ago, as play shifted to the new Janesville Youth Sports Complex. It also marked a shift in philosophy, as JYBSA became more committed to tournament play.

“At the old diamond, at that time, we weren’t really a tournament-oriented organization,” said Dave Davis, JYBSA’s Cal Ripken president. “We would have our all-star games on July 4 and then tryouts for our tournament teams.”

At the Little League level, those teams would play tournaments throughout the state, but they were not eligible for official state tournaments and therefore were never eligible to move on to play at Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

“Because of the number of kids that we had involved, we would have had to have more than one tournament team entered,” said JYBSA board member Dave Ellis.

Instead of having tournament-team tryouts, players would have been broken up by geographic area, and teams might not have been competitive, the board members said. Instead, the league modified some of its rules and therefore was ineligible for official Little League tournament play.

“With Cal Ripken, it’s not that way,” Ellis said. “We found that easier (for our tournament teams).”

Teams and programs around the country have sat down to make decisions whether to stick with Little League or to switch to Cal Ripken for similar reasons.

Ellis and Davis said the move also made sense monetarily and for insurance purposes—playing Babe Ruth and Cal Ripken together means all the insurance is under the same umbrella.

And Little League began when players were 10 years old. Cal Ripken allows JYBSA to add younger age divisions.

“(Cal Ripken) started at 9 years old, so that gave us another age group to take on,” Ellis said. “Now we have all the way down to 5- and 6-year-olds.”

As the players get older, Cal Ripken is set up to allow them to transition to bigger diamonds. When they turn 11, they move to a diamond where the bases are 70 feet apart and the pitcher’s mound is 50 feet from the plate.

“It’s improved our play, especially kids that are 12 and move into the 13-year-old bracket, and they’re on the big Babe Ruth diamond,” Davis said. “That’s a huge step from the small diamond. The in-between diamond, the 50/70, allows them to work on leading off and pickoff moves and pitching from the stretch.”

The younger teams are now eligible to advance all the way to the Cal Ripken World Series, which began in 2003.

Janesville’s 13U team has advanced to the Babe Ruth World Series, where it will face the best of the best in an organization that claims more than 1,000,000 members in all 50 states. The organization traces its roots back more than 60 years.

JYBSA will take another step forward next year, when the Youth Sports Complex plays host to a pair of regionals, bringing in teams from 10 different states to play for a World Series spot.

“The last few years, if we won a state tournament, and we won a lot of them, we would have to travel to Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky,” Davis said. “Our organization and our facilities are right near the top with anybody else. It’s a good place to play. But it’s a huge undertaking. It’s unbelievable what you have to do.”

And perhaps one day in the future, Janesville’s teams will wind up on your big screen.

“That day will probably come,” Ellis said. “I don’t know how much Cal Ripken is involved with all of it, but those that are running the show, I’m sure they’ll eventually look for a TV contract like Little League has. It’ll be nice when that happens, but it’s not real important.”

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