New league president urges children to sign up for baseball
It’s almost time to play ball. Sign-up day for the Jamestown Cal Ripken League is Saturday, March 23, from 8 to 11 a.m. at the recreation center. But according to Jeff Bush, the league’s new president, parents can register now on the league’s Facebook page.
Bush grew up on the island in an era when baseball had a monopoly on the summer sports scene. As a youngster, he played first base and pitched for the Conanicut Marina Tigers. He remembers those summers as a time when he and his friends learned the virtues of sportsmanship, dedication and community. He and his best friend, Larson Sutton, who pitched for the McQuade’s Market Orioles, staged some showdowns on the diamond, but off the field, they always stayed friends.
In Sutton’s backyard, throwing the baseball around after dark, Larson’s older brother taught Bush how to throw the knuckleball. Bush became a knuckleballer when he played in college. He needed a knuckleball to pitch at that level, he said, because his fastball wasn’t overpowering.
“We benefitted from people who gave up themselves to go as far as we did,” Bush said. After Little League, Bush and his brother Eric played summer league ball. In high school, they played at North Kingstown High School, and following graduation, they joined the Rhode Island College Anchormen.
Now 40 and a father of three, he is giving back to a new generation.
“One thing I do remember in Little League is not every kid went on to be a superstar,” he said. Some didn’t play baseball after their Little League days were over, but according to Bush, the experience helped to drive athletic competition and win friends on and off the field.
Friends from his baseball days who went on to collegiate careers in other sports included Steve and Kyle Froberg, who played soccer, and Mark Swistak, who played college football.
“It’s good for kids to play sports,” Bush said.
While there are more options than ever – youngsters have gravitated towards soccer and lacrosse over the years – he still wants to keep the baseball tradition going.
“I’d love for baseball to be an option here on the island,” he said.
As the new president of the Jamestown Cal Ripken League, which is laying the groundwork for the new season, Bush will manage all the league’s divisions: T-ball, rookie, minors and majors. He said he is looking forward to a successful season.
“We want to get the kids able to play at the majors level as soon as possible,” he said.
If the kids have the skills and are between the ages of 9 and 12, Bush said they can try out for majors. If they’re not ready, there are more novice levels.
“We let them go through the program and become good enough to play majors and not get hurt,” he said.
For example, players must learn how to slide into home plate without getting hurt, he said, and the pitchers have to learn how to “throw a nice fastball.”
Bush coached rookie level last year, he said. His daughter, Allison, played on a rookie team, and son Adam played T-ball.
The T-ball teams are for children ages 4 and 5, and rookie ball is for kids 6 and 7; 8-, 9- and 10-yearolds can play minors. Girls are welcome to play, he said, and they also have the option of playing softball on the rec department’s team.
For teams in the majors, players have to go through tryouts. The date is to be announced.
Bush is taking over for his brother, Eric, who ran the league for the past two years. Last year the league struggled at the start of the season to find coaches and players, but ultimately, they had a successful season.
“It’s always a process of sports in Jamestown,” he said. “People forget to sign up or they sign up at the end. We’re asking parents to commit early, so we know the number of teams.”
The price is $55 for parents who register before Saturday, March 23. The cost goes up to $80 for late registrations. Families are charged for the first two players only, he said, so if four youngsters play, the second two play for free.
Last season, the league fielded four teams each in the bottom three divisions, as well as two squads in majors.
This season, he said, the hope is to field three major division teams.
Bush said the league is looking for coaches, and added that adults don’t have to be baseball experts or have children to get involved. As long as they pass a criminal background check, they can help out. The league is seeking volunteers at all skill levels, he said, and the regular coaches will work with the novices to help teach the game.
When Bush was growing up, he said, the fathers organized the leagues. “When I played, the dads did their own deal,” Bush said.
That changed over the years when people began to see the benefit of signing on with Cal Ripken. The Cal Ripken organization, according to Bush, brings the “caliber of a national organization” into Little League. He says the players gain from the league’s guidance and cohesive rules.
Aside from coaching, there is another opportunity for community members to pitch in. On April 6, the league is sponsoring a cleanup day from 9 a.m. to noon to tidy up the Lawn Avenue ball fields. The rain date is April 7. Bush said volunteers can bring rakes, shovels and wheelbarrows.
The annual Cal Ripken League parade will take place on the first Saturday in May from 9 to 11 a.m. Following the march up Narragansett Avenue, players and coaches will participate in opening day ceremonies at the ball field. “Come out and have a good time,” said Bush.