Some youngsters who are about to reach the ends of their Little League seasons in the Gorge are wondering when the next opportunity to play the game they love will come along. Those who compete at a high level may make an All-Star or traveling team, but for young players who need a little more time to develop, there are fewer options for playing ball in the summer months.
A group comprised of coaches from Little League squads on both sides of the Columbia River, though, has decided to form a new team that will help 11- and 12-year-olds hone their on- and off-field skills as well as giving them something to do over their summer vacations.
Called Columbia Gorge Baseball, the new team caters to kids in the communities of Trout Lake, Odell, Parkdale, White Salmon, Bingen, Hood River and The Dalles. It focuses more on sportsmanship, good work ethic and skills building as opposed to the play-to-win mentality one might see in more selective leagues, explained Parkdale Little League coach Octavio Pinedo, one of the founders of the new team.
“There are kids who want to play more and learn more and we want to help them out,” he said. “You’re not going to find the cutthroat level of competition here.”
CGB is the brainchild of Pinedo, Mel Ahrens, Dennis McMahon, Josh Dillingham and Luis Jimenez, who are respectively the coaches for the Parkdale, Trout Lake, Pine Grove and Odell Little League teams. Several kids so far have committed to participating in the fledgling team (10 or 11 players are needed for a viable team), but organizers are aiming to send around 15 kids to weekend tournaments — likely held in the Portland area — throughout July and August and possibly into September. Each tournament usually consists of three games and the CGB organizers hope to have the team attend at least four or five tournaments during the summer.
Ahrens said Hood River Valley High School is allowing the team to use its batting cages Wednesday nights and McMahon said the team is using the White Salmon baseball diamond for fielding practice Thursday evenings.
Organizers have also applied for federal nonprofit status for CGB, a process Ahrens estimated would take six to eight months.
The most pressing issue facing CGB, however, is funding. According to Ahrens, each tournament costs around $500 to enter and some equipment also still needs to be purchased for the team. Organizers are in the process of seeking sponsorships from both individuals and businesses (who for the right price, can reserve advertising space on team jerseys) so that parents won’t have huge fees to pay if their children wish to participate.
“Ideally, we’d like to get the (parent contribution) down to zero,” McMahon explained. “There are some kids who want to play, but can’t afford to.”
CGB has already received donations from a couple Gorge businesses, including Trout Lake Farm, which gave CGB a big boost with a $2,500 donation it made last week.
“They’ve been very supportive of anything having to do with baseball in the (Trout Lake) Valley in the past,” a grateful McMahon noted.
Practices for the team got under way last week and will be held Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 6:30 at the HRVHS batting cages and the White Salmon baseball fields, respectively. Nine kids showed up to the first practice, which Ahrens felt was a good start.
For more information or to join the team, contact Mel Ahrens at 509-540-1309 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.