Remember when youth baseball was as innocent as ? youth baseball? Remember when teams were named after Indian tribes, when traveling to play somewhere consisted of a handle-bar ride on a Schwinn to the other park, when the only controversy that erupted after a game was the slurpy machine breaking down in the snack bar?
Those days are gone. Times have changed. Smoothies have replaced slurpies, and youth baseball organizations have had to adapt to society's ever-changing interests. Case-in-point: The Oak Park Youth Baseball Organization (OPYB). In the past, the OPYB has been both criticized and applauded for its balance of in-house league teams and the controversial but significantly popular traveling league teams. (In this column in the past, I have praised the organization for its unique balance. I still hold that stance.) The compliments have been regular and the criticisms infrequent and anonymous. But now a former coach for the organization has felt the urge to speak out. This veteran coach feels, in a sense, the OPYB is over-adapting to the times.
Rick Marchetti, who has coached in the league for 18 years, has decided not to return to the dugout next season. The coach, who managed the Optimist Club in the Bronco league for eight years, where they once won a North Zone championship, is unhappy with the current direction of the organization. And I think you'll be a little surprised by his position, for Marchetti is hanging up his manager's cap due in part to "Politics. Parental agendas. A board with no spine and no sense of history or loyalty." He's against rash expansion of the traveling teams?#34;a number that has grossly gone from five to nine in the last few years.
"Travel teams are supposed to the best of the best," Marchetti wrote in a recent interview conducted over e-mail. "Kids get cut, it's a part of life?#34;I know well. Now, pretty much anyone who wants to play gets to play travel ball. Never mind that you send a (mediocre team) out there and they get beat every game by 10 runs."
Marchetti, himself a product of OPYB and who began his coaching career in the league at the age of 16, said he doesn't mean to offend any parents, but "I'm sure that a kid who struggles with long division probably won't be chosen as a member of the calculus team. So why is baseball different?"
Along with the ratcheting up of the traveling teams, Marchetti said the leagues need to play fewer games and a restriction on pitch count needs to be in place for the traveling teams.
"We are jamming 40-50 games, not counting fall ball, into a four-month period. Kids are sometimes playing three games a day. While we monitor pitching in house-league, the NIML [Northern Illinois Metro League, which the traveling teams play in] has no pitching rules, so you see coaches pitching a kid four innings in a game when he already threw three in house-league earlier that day."
Whether he feels slighted for not being elected president of the Bronco league, or whether he simply has an axe to grind, you've got to give Marchetti credit for speaking out and signing his name to his opinions. His tenure and his devotion to the league were invaluable.
As an ongoing process, the OPYB is always taking steps to improve its organization, according to Vice President Tom Brashler.
"Along with numerous other possible changes, we are considering rule changes relating to pitching," said Brashler. "It's something that we're not ready to announce yet, but several changes along with that one are in the future."
That's always good, even if it means repairs on the slurpy machine are still ongoing.
To read Wednesday Journal's e-mail interview with Rick Marchetti in its entirety go to www.wednesdayjournalonline.com and click on Sports.