By Lori Lindner
North Liberty Leader
NORTH LIBERTY– You never outgrow your love for baseball.
That’s why organizers of the Tri-County North Babe Ruth League added yet opportunity for older players; now, boys 16 to 18 years old can suit up and take the field all summer long.
Coach and co-organizer Eric Vandewater of North Liberty said it was the league’s first-ever effort to offer baseball for kids of that age. North Liberty-area youth are eligible to play in the increasingly-popular NLYBS (North Liberty Youth Baseball and Softball) league between the ages of four years and 12 years old. After that, boys may play in the Babe Ruth league from ages 12 to 15. Last year, Tri-County North helped to create a fall league for that age bracket of players as well, to extend the season, particularly for those players who don’t go on to play high school ball.
But for Vandewater and others who love the game, the question was, why stop there? His son Tyler is 16, and the Vandewater family has always maintained an active interest in baseball.
“I looked at Tyler and his friends, and thought, there’s nothing else for them to do if they don’t make the school baseball team,” said Vandewater. “So this is the perfect opportunity for them to play more baseball.”
Though there are no tryouts like there is for local high school teams, this league is semi-competitive. The two new 16-18 year old teams are able to play against similar Iowa Babe Ruth leagues and club teams through the summer.
“At this level, they have most of the fundamentals down,” said Vandewater. “Some of them may have played on traveling teams or in the junior Babe Ruth league.”
And after that, most of them thought they were done playing organized baseball– maybe for the rest of their lives, Vandewater said, until now.
“Once we got the word out about this league, they came right away,” he said. It didn’t take long to fill rosters for two full teams. “I think they’re excited.”
Player Griffin Brunk plays catcher on the Gold 16-18 team coached by Vandewater, Tom Bertell and head coach Kevin Waul.
“It’s fun,” said Brunk. “I get to hang out with my friends and play baseball. We get to be outside and stay active. It’s nice to be able to play ball again for the summer.”
Pitcher for the Gold team Jesse Baum, who used to play for West High, agreed.
“I appreciate the coaches organizing this team,” Baum said. “Baseball is a good social thing. I meet a lot of new people, because I’ve never really played with most of these guys before. And I get to play ball still.”
And that’s what it’s all about, Vandewater said. He and the other organizers of the Tri-County North league hope to grow the league and offer it again in future years.
“It’s good for kids. I mean, look at them,” said Vandewater, as he watched the Gold 16-18 team take the field on a recent sunny Saturday afternoon. “They are together with their teammates, and socializing. They’re not home playing video games in front of the TV.
“It’s everything you want, and hot dogs too,” Vandewater concluded.
For more information, visit www.nlbr.org .