La Jolla Youth Baseball tees it up for the kids

If you ask 10 parents and 10 kids about their Shetland experience (aka T-ball), you will get 20 different answers. It’s hard to put your finger on the magic of baseball when it comes to 4-, 5- and 6-year-old kids.

For starters, there is a vast difference in skill and ability between a 4-year-old “daisy picker” and an older 6-year-old “slugger” — yet the goal of teaching the basics and enjoying the game remains the same.

Last season LJYB accepted an invitation from the PONY Region to enter an all-star team into their annual tournament. “Shetland All-Stars — are you kidding me?” was the collective guffaw from most circles. Scheduling games around nap times was a reality. “They’ve been doing it in L.A. for years” we were told.

The decision was made to give it a try, initially entering two teams of mostly 6-year old kids into the Memorial Day Tournament hosted by Tecolote Youth Baseball. Not only did the experiment prove successful, but the two La Jolla teams reached the championship game with the Red team edging out the Blue team in an exciting game. Heading into the summer PONY tournament, the two teams folded into one — mostly because of summer vacation schedules — and they proceeded to win the Section, Region and earned a berth in the PONY World Series in Los Angeles. It was an amazing experience for the players and their families, even if it was “two games and a BBQ” against the more experienced L.A. leagues.

The lesson LJYB learned in all of this was the need to develop two groups of Shetland players in an age-appropriate manner that keeps them coming back for more, and better preparing the 6-year old players for Pinto baseball. The opportunity to “play up” for the most skilled players isn’t an option, especially when the Pinto division is full with 7- and 8-year-old players. Shetland President Greg Hansen, a nine-year LJYB parent, coach and board member came up with the idea of splitting the kids into smaller teams with two levels of play — Majors and Minors. The first-year kids would stick with tee-ball and work hard on the fundamentals, keeping things light, fun and safe for everyone. At the same time, the 6-year-old players would use the pitching machine from the beginning, and work on making plays in the field that more closely resemble the Pinto experience. With the small team sizes (9 max), everyone gets more play time and are better engaged, hence learning at a faster rate and enjoying successes along the way. Rick Macdonald, head of player development for the league and manager of the Willis Allen team, added a number of “Sandlot Sessions” for the Shetland division designed to specifically enhance the Shetland players’ ability to hit, throw and run bases. It is still early in the season, but by all accounts, these three changes to the Shetland baseball experience appear to be working out well for the kids and their parents.

— Shetland Majors teams and managers include: Bank of America Home Loans (Chris Circuit), California Bank & Trust (Mitch Yaruss), Donovan’s Prime Seafood (Marc Howard), La Jolla Playhouse (Jim Weaver), Makaira Partners (Greg Hansen), Party City (Mike Gibbs), SD Storage (Roy Clark), and Willis Allen Real Estate (Rick Macdonald). The Minors teams and managers are: Brockton Villa (Michael Cairns), Jersey Mike’s of La Jolla (Mike McBride), Kiwanis Club of La Jolla (Philip Boczanowski), Murfey Construction (Scott Murfey), and Scoma Pediatric Dentistry (Ellen MacLean). Go Shetland!

—Tom Murphy, LJYB