Echo of the boom gone quiet

Matthew
Matthew Gourlie
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Local baseball looking to slowly grow after registration peaked 20 years ago

Charlie Meacher can remember going to the sporting goods store in the Town'n'Country Mall and buying every piece of baseball equipment they had.

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"It was my second year as the equipment guy (for Moose Jaw Little League) and I went and bought everything baseball they had," said Meacher. "I didn't have enough equipment to fill all of our bags. We had 23 or 24 rookie teams. We didn't have enough equipment to give them. The shack was empty by time we were done.

"It really was something that year."

That was only 20 years ago, but Moose Jaw's baseball boom has definitely gone bust.

When the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992 and 1993 kids across Canada flocked to the game and in Moose Jaw they registered in unprecedented numbers. Meacher, who served on the local Little League board for more than a decade, recalls that their registration numbers peaked near the 1,150 mark.

By time all of those young players hit their teens, Moose Jaw had two competitive midget AAA teams, a midget AA team and a junior team. With the Moose Jaw Devons unable to field a team this summer, there will be no midget AAA baseball in the city this season.

The warning signs were there at the high end of the sport as it became harder and harder to field two AAA teams comprised entirely of local players. More players from surrounding communities – and others an hour away or more — filled the ranks of the local midget AAA teams until, finally, there was only one AAA team.

"(The number of Moose Jaw players playing midget AAA) really declined over the last 10 year," said Meacher who also coached midget AAA Cardinals with the Roger Anholt for a number of years. "This is the fifth year without two AAA teams, but even in the five years before that, basically one of those teams were kids who weren't from Moose Jaw. I think the Canucks had eight kids from out of town and (the Cardinals) had four or five. Even at that point, the number of good kids in town, just wasn't there.

"Why that is? Good question."

Even in the early 2000s there were elite athletes who would go on to play another sport in university who still played baseball until they were finished high school. Meacher agreed that specialization in sports at younger ages isn't helping.

"Certainly the fact that hockey does all of those other things hasn't helped," said Meacher said that the growth of lacrosse meant their registration numbers "took a real beating."

"Lacrosse took away a lot of good athletes because a lot of those athletes play hockey and they wanted to play lacrosse because it cross-trained better for their sport than baseball did," said Meacher. "Now there's summer hockey and roller hockey."

After breaking the 1,000 player mark from 1992-94 during the peak of the Blue Jays success, the numbers tapered off before plateauing around the 700-800 mark by the late 90s.

"At the time our consensus was the fact that the Blue Jays won really pushed our numbers to spots that we had never been and would never get to again — unless they won again," said Meacher. "The young population was down here, at the time, as well. For the most part we weren't concerned because we had levelled off at that 700 to 800 mark and we were happy with that. Those were good numbers for us. When we got to 1,100 it was way too much. We didn't have enough equipment, we didn't have enough people, we didn't have diamond-space."

After a number of years of consistent participation numbers, registration began to drop. 

Ben Griswald, president of Moose Jaw Little League, said that in recent years the numbers have held steady and started to grow modestly.

"It's levelled off, but every year it gains a little bit," said Griswald who added that 330 players have signed up so far for the upcoming season.. "We're probably up 30 kids from where it was about four or five years ago."

Griswald is happy to see signs of growth in some of the divisions. He said their 7-8 year old divisions are up, as are their 13-14 year old age group.

"We have the online registration that helps," said Griswald who added that they also did some online advertising this year as well. "Most of it is word of mouth and sending out an email to the parents and previous parents from the last couple of years."

The Little League season will begin on April 28, weather permitting.

The leagues have just finished drafting teams, but if anyone is interested in registering for Little League before the season starts they can email mjll@shaw.ca or call Ben Griswald at 692-3387.

 

Organizations: Little League, Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays Canucks

Geographic location: Moose Jaw, Canada

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