The Case for Babe Ruth Baseball


          As a parent and coach who has been involved with Springfield Babe Ruth, I’d like to share my thoughts with you on some of the choices in youth baseball in Springfield in particular and Northern Virginia in general. I believe my experiences are in some ways unique in that it has been my great good fortune to have been involved in baseball not just here in Springfield but in the largest Little League and Up program in the country in Plano, Texas. In addition, for the last 2 years, I’ve been involved with the higher levels of baseball that are involved with college and pro baseball through my son, Jonathon ( JJ ) who has played in national events for pro scouts,  been recruited by many Division One Universities and has been scouted heavily by Major League Baseball. I have coached teams at every level of Little League and Babe Ruth as well as twice coaching a High School Franchise team for a top ranked program in the Metro area. I have also managed multiple league all-star teams. I believe that these experiences have given me a national and local perspective that may help some parents and players as they decide what directions to pursue in baseball.


          First of all, the very fact that a player still wants to play baseball after Little League indicates a love for the game and an interest in progressing in the sport. So, naturally questions come to mind, “ What is the best way to progress in the sport? “, “ How do we make sure the sport remains FUN even as skills are improved?” “ Will progress be made more rapidly in an all inclusive league like Babe Ruth or by joining an AAU or Elite team?”Having gone through this as a parent, I know that the choices aren’t easy ones and much is involved both for the player and his/her parents. I will just share our experiences over the years in hopes that it might be of benefit to some of you in making these choices.


          Our son, JJ, was always a pretty good player and loved baseball completely. Starting when he was 12, he was asked every spring and fall season to join one “elite” or AAU team or another. This continues to this day.  The case for these “special” teams was pretty much the same, regardless of the particular team it happened to be. We were told that JJ would be playing with “better” players, receive superior coaching, and get more exposure to the top people in area baseball. Also, most of these teams were travel teams who played in tournaments in other areas and states. Of course, JJ and his parents were thrilled and excited that he’d been asked. And JJ knew many of the players who were going to be playing for these teams…another plus! So, we talked about it as a family, though the final decision rested with JJ.


          Season after season, this process happened in our family. And JJ always said, “No”, to all the “special” teams. Instead, he chose to play Springfield Babe Ruth and Northern Virginia Fall Baseball. We agreed with his reasons for playing “regular league” baseball. Here are some of them……


          On the issue of “playing with the best players” – We felt that, though there were many fine players on these “special” teams, there were lots of fine players not on those teams who played SBRL. Also, JJ knew that many players, who weren’t “great” at the moment, certainly could get better and better and end up doing great things on the field. That fact added to the fun factor in playing. It’s always a blast to see improvement and great plays from teammates who might not be expected to make them by this coach or that coach. Plus, JJ didn’t really want to be around ONLY hard-core baseball players, he wanted to be around and get to know all kinds of players. Basically, he just wanted to keep it fun. He didn’t want the thing he loved most to become like a business where he was being groomed for greatness or something. And we as parents agreed that the best way to insure JJ getting better was to keep it all as just fun.


          On the issue of “superior coaching” – In my opinion, there are some very good coaches in both Springfield Babe Ruth and AAU programs. Also, in both programs there are some not quite as good. Overall, I think the coaching level is about the same in both. I’ve found, in my years as a player and a coach, that this is true in every league and every program. I will say however, that I have special respect for those coaches who are volunteers in community programs. And it has been my experience in SBRL that the coaches are very good people who try to do their best for the team, and not just for their particular child.


          On the issue of “exposure to top baseball people” – I will just say that JJ never played for a travel team, an AAU team, or an elite team until he was already being scouted by Major League Baseball and was being recruited by Div.1 colleges. The one exception was when he a senior in high school and played on a Fall Travel Team that was selected and coached by Atlanta Braves scouts. This was after JJ had pretty much decided on a college. Clearly, we don’t feel that JJ’s baseball progress was hindered at all by not playing AAU ball. He got a full tuition and room scholarship to a fine Div.1 university and was offered selection in a top ten round in the June 2003 MLB Draft. Honestly, I give much credit for his success thusfar to his years in SBRL .  JJ isn’t unique in this. There are several local players who have received scholarship and draft offers after playing for years in SBRL.


          Another thing to think about is playing time. I’ve always felt that players progress in baseball through game innings. Clinics and individual instruction can be great and very useful, but experience in actual games is invaluable to players becoming better overall. Many AAU teams have 15-20 players on their roster. This effects the number of innings that each player plays. Most AAU teams play 3 games over a weekend for a total of 21 innings. I know several players in those programs who typically play 3-6 innings each

weekend. The rosters in SBRL typically number 11 or 12 players. The smaller roster sizes and league concepts and rules on playing time provide for more game innings for most players.


          In my mind, Babe Ruth Baseball offers something else that greatly increases the fun factor for the players, coaches, and parents. Something to play for as a team. Each game means something! During the season, teams have the goals of winning their division and of making the playoffs. Once in the playoffs, there is the game by game goal of winning a tournament championship. Having these goals promotes fun and teaches the players to pull together as team toward common goals. It really helps make it all so enjoyable to the players and parents who support the team. Finally, after the season is over, the players and coaches select all-star teams. These teams have District, State, Regional, and National Championships to play for.


          Babe Ruth Baseball has been an outstanding national program for over 50 years and playing in one of their leagues is a very rewarding experience. And as for Springfield Babe Ruth League, I couldn’t begin to express the wonderful experiences JJ had in his years playing for his community league here in Springfield. So many great people, so many great games, and such a great atmosphere for the player’s improvement and enjoyment.


          I guess I write this because Cynthia and I are so grateful for a group of people and a league that helped our son progress and prepare, as a person and as a player, to the point where he has opportunities. The opportunity of higher education to stand him in good stead in his life and the opportunity to pursue his dreams in baseball.


Thank you for your interest in our league,


Coach Pannell