In any merger, there’s an adjustment period when the two sides, generally unfamiliar with each other, are suddenly thrust together and forced to iron out their differences while they build toward the greater good of the now combined entities.
For the pre-existing leagues known as Old Rochester Little League and Rochester Youth Baseball League, this year was that adjustment period, but after one full season together, the newly formed Old Rochester Little League, which now includes players from Rochester, Marion and Mattapoisett, has been a success, and the players are reaping the benefits, both on and off the field.
“It was a little bit of a culture shock when we brought the two groups together – some little bumps along the way, some hiccups here and there – but I think by and large, those are temporary, one-year type of things where people are getting used to the new league structure, and also getting more familiar with where their child would be appropriately placed,” Commissioner Peter Johnson said.
Johnson said that the league has about 400 participants from ages 4-12. Players play at multiple complexes across Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester.
“The idea is to mix all the kids together, and have them play across all three towns,” Johnson said. “It’s a true Tri-Town experience for the kids.”
Not only has the number of players doubled, but they’ve also been able to fine-tune the age groups to a point where players can be placed within similar age and skill levels, which allows coaches to properly appropriate playing time while also keeping the leagues competitive.
“I think it really worked out well where it allowed finer gradation and the kids play in a peer group – both age and ability – with the idea to provide the best opportunity for the kids,” Johnson said. “Nothing’s more frustrating then when a kid’s not with the appropriate group.”
Under the new system, players are divided into 5 different age groups: T-Ball, for 4- and 5-year-olds; Double-A, for 6- and 7-year-olds; Triple-A, for advanced 7- and 8-year-olds, where players start to pitch and hit live pitching; Minor League, for 9- and 10-year-olds with some 11-year-olds mixed in; and Major League, for 11- and 12-year-olds.
This year, champions were crowned in three leagues, with the Braves winning in the Major League Division, the Padres winning the Minor League Division, and the Mud Hens winning the Triple-A Division.
The Old Rochester Little League also sent 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old teams to the District 7 Little League World Series Tournament, and though no team made it onto the next round, they were all very competitive.
“The nice thing, though, when you play in these tournaments, you never know what type of competition you’re going to come across,” Johnson said. “I would say that each one of our teams competed very well. We’re very competitive for the small footprint that we have – we’re probably one of the smallest programs in the district.”
One team that was very successful was a group of 9-year-old all-stars from the league, who recently won the Sandwich Summer Blast Tournament.
The league will also field teams for the upcoming local all-star circuit.
All in all, the entire merger can be considered a success, especially off the field, with friendships being formed that may not have ever existed without the leagues’ unification.
“We didn’t play cross-town baseball back [when I was a child],” Johnson said. “There weren’t any youth organizations that spanned the Tri-Town area, perhaps with the exception of hockey. These kids are forging these bonds across the Tri-Town area, which really helps as they transition into the Junior High and the Senior High. They walk in, and they already have all these friendships.”
By Nick Walecka