Volume 19 Issue 38 | February 2 -8, 2007

Downtown Express photos by Elisabeth Robert

Luca Leeser, 10, pitches at the Downtown Little League tryouts Saturday at B.M.C.C. This season more players will be grouped by ability to even out the teams, rather than putting friends on the same team.

Spring training comes Downtown early with a twist

By Brooke Edwards

Downtown Little Leaguers showed up in record numbers for this season’s tryouts, as the league works to create more balanced teams.

The tryouts were held over the past weekend at the City University Borough of Manhattan Community College gym. Turnout was up to 184 players, over last year’s 130.

During the tryouts, each player went before a panel of outside judges to demonstrate their skills. They were then given a rating, which will be used to determine what level they will play at and to build even teams.

“We’ve tried to reinvent the roster process,” said Mark Costello, president of the league. “We hired professional coaches to come in and run the tryouts. We wanted a really objective rating from people who don’t know the kid.”

Ken Burns, vice president of the league, said, “Last year we did the evaluations internally.” He said there was no consistent system used to evaluate the players and that it resulted in unbalanced teams.

“This year,” Burns said, “every kid got the same number of pitches, the same number of flies and ground balls, and then they were each given a score by the same team of external evaluators.”

He added that one of the evaluators who looked at every player was the coach for St. John’s University. “These guys really know baseball,” he said.

Burns said the change comes as a result of complaints over the past several seasons that some teams were “stacked” while others had weaker players.

“We had a long debate this winter about this idea,” Costello said. “This is an issue in all youth sports in general.”

Noah Sutter, 9, left, pitches. Max Wilson, 9, practices his swing

Costello added, “This is in response to what the parents and coaches have asked for,” though he expects there will be complaints when rosters are released and parents see that kids have been split up from their friends.

“The long and short of it is that the reason teams are unbalanced is if you let kids stay together with their friends,” Costello said. “The more athletic children tend to be friends with other athletic children,” which will result in unbalanced teams.

His own daughter’s team went 0 and 12 last season.

Costello said, “It’s okay for that to happen one season. But if it happens two years in a row, it can start to be a problem.”

This season for children 8 and older, there will be no “social rostering” or grouping friends together on the same teams. Last year, the league grouped players by ability at age 9 and Costello hopes to extend the policy for 6- and 7-year-olds next year.

Team rosters will be announced between March 1 and opening day, scheduled for March 31, though Costello said that “depends on what happens with the ballfields.”

The Battery Park City Authority has not yet released a timeline on its construction plans for the B.P.C. ballfields, where the teams play most of their games. Though they have been assured that they will still be able to have games on the fields during construction, the league is waiting for the final details.

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