PEPPERELL -- Baseball season is in full swing, and those youths competing in Pepperell will have newly renovated diamonds, and a different league to showcase their skills.
Pepperell Youth Baseball and Softball Association president Jason Twomey feels that this year will be a different one for the league. Last season, the PYBSA announced that they would be making the move to Cal Ripken League from Little League, which has been a staple in the town for decades.
"We moved to Cal Ripkin from Little League after many seasons," said Twomey. "The main reason we did that was because of the Little League rules and how restrictive about what towns we could play at different levels. That really took how the league was run out of the local league and was really a one-size-fits-all that Little League had in place."
Any baseball fan will tell you that the food is just as important as the game. Twomey and the league have revamped their concession stand in partnership with local businesses in an attempt to bring more people to the fields.
"We are trying to get some of the local businesses involved to help out with discounted items," said Twomey. "Pizza is one of the items we are looking to sell. We have some grills set up for outings to get more people out. The sad thing is when my kids were 7 and 8, the fields used to be full all day."
Cal Ripkin League splits the teams into divisions based on age, with the youngest level Rookie Ball for those aged 4-6. Players have the ability to move up and down in divisions during the season, if there are needs at a higher or lower level. In Little League there was no shuffling between the teams, and Twomey cited that was one of the big reasons why they made the change to Cal Ripkin.
"Another reason we went to Cal Ripkin is because it allows the individual talent to run the league," said Twomey. "We play in the Macintosh League, and that was one of the rule changes they made for this year. It gives the kids an opportunity to get a taste of the next level, and what they need to work on."
The numbers in softball have dwindled as a byproduct of spring soccer and girls' lacrosse picking up steam in the area. Twomey mentioned that the league's numbers are so low this season that they will only have enough players for one team.
"We are struggling. This is the first year we will only be able to field one team," said Twomey. "We don't have any teams at the younger levels, and we don't have a seniors team. We only have a Major team of 10- to 12-year-olds."
PYBSA underwent a major overhaul, including the creation of a new logo. Out with the Major League Baseball team names, and in with dri-fit unique uniforms.
"We went to a dri-fit shirt with the Pepperell logo on it in an attempt to identify our league a little more," said Twomey. "What we are trying to do is get the new logo out there to advertise and keep kids playing baseball."
Cal Ripken Baseball features five different levels, with teeball for five- and six-year-olds, rookie league (coach pitch) for 5- to 8-year-olds, while Minor Leagues is normally 8- to 10-year-olds. Majors are for kids 10- to 12-years-old, and the field features a 70-foot diamond. That allows players to make a much smoother transition to the standard 90-foot basepaths in Babe Ruth, and high school baseball.
Babe Ruth baseball is still growing in the area as Pepperell has started a league with Ashby, Townsend, Westminster, Narragansett and Ashburnham.
"We are kind of learning as we go," said Twomey. "All of our kids used to play in Leominster. We are up to about 17 teams for the 13- to 15-year-olds. It will give them an opportunity to play in different areas."
The league has also undergone serious renovations to the baseball and softball diamonds. In years past, the softball and baseball fields were joined together, but now the girls have a field of their own. At the softball field, the league spent roughly $18,000 on the overhaul.
"The softball field used to be shared with baseball," said Twomey. "What we did was tear up the infield and make it a stonedust diamond more catered to softball. We replaced all the backstops, and did some work with the dugouts in the town softball field."
At the baseball field on Jersey Street, the league resodded the fields and converted one field from a 60-foot basepath to a 70-foot for the Major Division. The fences remain the same, as the Cal Ripken League has no requirements on the dimensions of the field.
"We are trying to do some fundraising with the local businesses to put some lights up at the Jersey Street field," said Twomey. "We are trying to give the kids the opportunity to play under the lights."
A new era of baseball and softball is about to start in Pepperell. New uniforms, new fields and a new league. All the teams need now is the support of the community.
In the words of John Fogerty, "Put me in coach, I'm ready to play," and the PYBSA will be ready when they open their seasons later this month. For information check out the league's website at pepperellyouthbaseball.com.