LJYB Pony Division builds bridge to high school baseball
By Tom Murphy
La Jolla Youth BaseballTeenagers are busy. There is no better explanation for the drop off in the number of players who register for Pony baseball every year. There is plenty of competition for the time and talent of teens as they begin to narrow their athletic commitments to one or two sports with an eye on making a team in high school. LJYB is happy to field three teams for the past few seasons, which is more than the surrounding leagues in the region. The fact remains that the herd thins after Pinto, with year-round programs popping up everywhere and sports such as lacrosse and water polo taking off in Southern California. LJYB is cognizant of the excellent choices available to kids and works hard to keep players engaged and enthusiastic about baseball at each division.
With 33 players registered in Pony, there is a unique challenge and opportunity that contributed to the formation of SD Metro Pony Inter-League (
www.leaguelineup.com/sdponyinterleague). LJYB Pony President Paul Delmore, a veteran team manager and board member, worked closely with his counterparts at Tecolote, North City, Mira Mesa and High Tech Middle to form an 11-team regional league with games played at four different venues. The idea of “home and away” games gives the kids an experience to play under different circumstances, at different fields, and against kids they don’t know from school or other leagues, much like the travel or club teams, prior to working their way on to a high school squad. This year, instead of sending Pony All Star teams to the Tecolote Memorial Day Tournament, the SD Metro Pony Inter-League will host a championship tournament, which everyone agrees will be a much more fun way to wrap up the season.
The level of play for 13- and 14-year old athletes is very high and most of the kids who want to play at the next level are able to compete for spots on the Freshman and Junior Varsity squads. To better prepare the kids and build a bridge to these programs, LJYB reached out to Howard and Gary Frank at La Jolla High School (Howard is the former varsity coach who now heads the Athletic Foundation, and his son Gary is the Varsity Coach.) They invited the Pony and Bronco players from LJYB to attend a clinic hosted by the high school coaches and players at their fantastic baseball facility. Having the kids go through the paces of a simulated high school practice, and interacting with the players on the larger field is a big deal to these 7th and 8th graders. The high school programs have a vested interest in recruiting the best and most prepared players and it is encouraging to see how many LJHS players came through La Jolla’s Pony league – at least half – so it is a genuine “win-win” to organize these clinics every year. The LJYB board recently decided to install an additional set of “60/90” bases on the Pony field so the older kids can begin working out on the regulation size field for high school, college and MLB standards. The official PONY field has 80-foot bases and 54-foot pitching distance, so it is important to expose the players to the regulation distances they will play on in the next year or two. By “double-pegging” the Pony bases for practice purposes, the kids will stay in the league longer and will likely have a more successful transition into high school baseball wherever they play.