Dark, bubbly clouds hung low in the sky, threatening to cancel Tuesday’s games in Powell’s littlest league. Yet fresh, tender grass — almost neon green from days of rain in the high …
Dark, bubbly clouds hung low in the sky, threatening to cancel Tuesday’s games in Powell’s littlest league. Yet fresh, tender grass — almost neon green from days of rain in the high desert — was mostly dry and inviting for players to take the field as the threat of rain dissipated.
The T-ball division, for children 4 to 6 years old, isn’t about competition. Instead it emphasizes fun, with the hope children will fall in love with the national pastime, said Chris Baumann, coach of the River Turtles.
“It’s their first chance to swing the bat, throw the ball and learn basic fundamentals. I look at my job as making sure they enjoy themselves so they want to come back next summer and play again,” Baumann said.
Bill Cummings, coach of the Bananas, grew up in Powell loving baseball. Yet, when he was a child, the organization was much smaller with only a few teams participating.
“It was actually kind of struggling at that point in time,” he said. “I think by the time I was in the majors program, there were only three teams, maybe. Now, this is the strongest I’ve ever seen it.”
The number of Powell Little Leaguers (ages 4-12) rocketed from about 150 athletes in 2021 to 252 participants last year, Travis Jones, league board president, told an impressed Powell City Council in April. The 65% jump in registrations set a Little League world record, he said. “They’ve never seen that, ever.”
As coach, Cummings isn’t focused on turning double plays.
“I just wanted to make it a fun experience,” he said, echoing the mantra of every coach in the division.
And fun it is; not just for the kids, but everyone involved. Watching the children play brings a smile so often, your cheeks start cramping from being over-used — like a bride and groom suffering through a prolonged photo session. They play two innings in which every child on the teams gets a turn at bat.
The coaches begin the at-bats by pitching five times to the kids. If they don’t make contact, the tee is brought out giving everyone a chance to run the bases. Then, on the final at-bat of each half inning, the hit will clear the bases, typically for a grand slam as each child relishes the opportunity to cross home plate.
Only kids who can count pretty high keep score. At this age, there are no losers — only winners — and everyone goes home with joy in their hearts and sore cheeks from the endless smiles.
Each participant is an all-star in the T-ball division, despite their skill level. Some kids take it more seriously than others, but all are free to express their joy. Girls and boys are welcome in the league and socialization is one of the most important lessons they learn.
“I think it’s good for the kids to get out here and have an activity where they can get out, stretch their legs and socialize. They see all their friends from school and, as you can see from the game, they enjoy making new friends,” said Ted Shinn, coach of the Grasshoppers.
Shinn is no stranger to the game. He played when he was young and transitioned into being an umpire and coach later in life. He’s been coaching T-ball for five years now as his grandchildren move through the program. He’s also the coach of the Rockhounds, in the Minors division.
He also taught his daughter, Kelsey Nguyen, how to play. She is now the Grasshopper’s assistant coach.
Nguyen wasn’t immediately in love with the sport, but Shinn kept her and her sisters involved and, as they improved, it became more fun, she said.
“He helped me a lot,” she said. “He kept getting me and my sisters out there and we kept practicing. He taught me how to hit and catch.”
She followed her father into coaching four years ago as her three sons moved through the program — including the one she was carrying.
Her first year of coaching, she took the field while pregnant with her youngest son, Asher, now a Grasshopper star.
Christine Davis, coach of the Vibes, is in her second year of coaching and first on the Powell Little League board of directors. Her daughter, Izzy, has one of the strongest arms on the team. “She has older brothers,” Davis explained.
“I love baseball. I love coaching and I love watching the kids. That’s why I do all of this,” she said.
Jones credits the board for the leagues’ success.
“Our board has done an amazing job with this program,” he said.