BY MIKE McCARTHY | MIRROR EDITOR — Hundreds, if not thousands, of former Maumee Little League players have fond memories of their years playing baseball at Robert S. Hoag Field at Ford Park.
The beauty of the meticulously manicured infield, the smell of fresh grass and the dazzle of the bright lights for night games led to many thrilling games on Maumee’s classic baseball diamond and fostered many friendships over the years. If there was ever a field of dreams for 11- and 12-year-olds, this was surely the place.
The prospects of bright dreams have been dimmed considerably so far this year, however, as Maumee Little League registration lags seriously behind last year’s already weak numbers and threatens the quality of play as league officials prepare for the 2022 season.
Ron Hoag, a longtime Maumee Little League coach and volunteer and the current treasurer of the league, reported on Monday that approximately 160 boys and girls have signed up for the 2022 season. That may seem like a good number, until you consider that in the pre-pandemic years, Maumee Little League attracted between 250 and 300 kids per season. The Sunday night registration deadline has come and gone, and Maumee Little League finds itself trailing in the bottom of the ninth, with two men out.
“The thing that really started the decline was when the league was shut down in 2020 due to COVID-19,” stated Hoag. “Many of the players found other options by playing baseball on travel teams that year and then did not return to Maumee Little League last year.”
In previous years, many kids played Maumee Little League baseball during the week and then participated in the Junior Panther travel teams on the weekends. In recent years, however, that has changed as more kids are playing travel ball throughout the week and not playing Maumee Little League ball at all.
Hoag reports the most significant damage has been inflicted on the minor and major leagues. The minor league is for the 9-10-year-old players and the major league is comprised of 11-12-year-olds, those players who reach the pinnacle of their Little League years by enjoying baseball thrills on the big diamond at Robert S. Hoag Field.
According to Hoag, the minor league had 53 kids who should have been available to return for the 2022 season. “Right now, there are just 24 signed up,” Hoag said. “That’s not even half.” Of those 24 kids, five are new to the league, so the number of players returning from last year is a woeful 19 out of 53. The league will have only enough players for two teams unless more players sign up very soon, warned Hoag.
In the major league, 36 kids played last year. As of Monday, only 22 kids have signed up and four of those kids are new to the league. “That means that just half of last year’s major league players are signed up for 2022,” said Hoag. This means that the major league will consist of only two teams if the season were to start today.
In years past, Maumee Little League always saw a late flurry of registrations as the deadline drew near. This year, however, there were just a handful of last-minute registrations, and perhaps family activities on Super Bowl Sunday were a factor for the low numbers, Hoag speculated.
The good news is that the younger age groups are in good shape.
The 4-5-6-year-old tee-ball league has 48 players registered so far, which is an increase from last year’s 40 because 15 4-year-old children have signed up. Late sign-ups are allowed in this league, and last year there were enough kids to field six teams. The only problem in this league is getting enough coaches to volunteer.
The 7-8-year-old division has 55 players signed up so far, which is normal.
As a final effort to try to attract more of the older players, the Maumee Little League board has agreed to extend registration for all players until midnight on Saturday, February 19. The board meets on Sunday, February 20 at 7:00 p.m. at the IOOF building on Illinois Avenue to make plans for the player draft.
Tryouts for the older kids are held on the first Saturday in March, and that is why registration must be finalized by this weekend. Players in the minor and major leagues participate in a set of drills designed to measure each child’s baseball skills. Following those workouts, coaches take turns drafting players for their teams. With a little luck, enough players will sign up this week to create an extra team or two in each division.
Boys and girls residing in Maumee and Monclova Township are eligible to participate in Maumee Little League.
Parents of all prospective Maumee Little League players may register their children for the 2022 season before the final deadline of Saturday, February 19 by visiting www.maumeelittleleague.com and filling out the form.