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Batter up: Ball registration surges as organizers scramble to keep up

Tara Jeffrey Blame it on the bat flip. Baseball registration in Sarnia is booming, thanks to what fans and organizers are calling “The Blue Jays effect.
Dylan Sheffer takes a swing at a pitch from coach Mark Lamore during an SMAA bantam baseball practice at Germain Park, recently. The sport has seen a record number of registrations this season. Catcher is Nathaniel Lamore. Glenn Ogilvie

Tara Jeffrey

Blame it on the bat flip.

Baseball registration in Sarnia is booming, thanks to what fans and organizers are calling “The Blue Jays effect.”

“It’s certainly got something to do with it,” Sharon Baxter said of the surge in popularity following last year’s success of the lone Canadian Major League Baseball team.

The registrar director for Sarnia Minor Athletic Association (SMAA) baseball said organizers have been scrambling to accommodate the surge in 2016 player registration across all divisions, from instructional (ages 4-6) to Bantam (ages 15-18).

“I’ve been the registrar for eight years, and this year has just been crazy,” said Baxter, pointing to an increase from last year’s 500 kids to some 640 this season, with the number of teams jumping from 42 to 52. Some rosters have been bumped from 12 to 14 players to help squeeze more kids onto teams.

But despite the organization’s best efforts, there are youngsters who may not get to play at all this season.

“There are waitlists in two divisions right now – the Novice and the Mosquitos,” Baxter said of the groups, which cover ages six through 10. “And I won’t get to them all; I just won’t.

“We’ve tried everything we possibly could to get these kids signed. We hate to say no to them.”

A similar situation in Corunna has seen an additional 50 kids registered, and three additional teams.

“They’re calling it Blue Jay Fever,” said Corunna Minor Baseball president Sue Knight. “We’ve managed to find spots for all our kids to play. We try not to turn anyone away.”

Finding enough ball diamonds has also been a challenge for the Sarnia league, which generally calls Germain Park home, Baxter said.

“We don’t have enough diamonds in this city to accommodate all the teams this year, so we’re booking the Clearwater diamonds and (McRae Park) in Point Edward,” she said. “We’re also scheduling games on Sundays, which normally, we don’t do.”

Teams in the Instructional division will have to play on grass this year, which isn’t ideal, Baxter said, especially when it comes to teaching the fundamentals of baseball – but it’ll have to do for now.

More volunteers are also needed this year to help work the concession booth at Germain Park on Saturdays.

“The coaches have stepped up, and come back year after year, but for some reason, it’s hard to get parents to come and work that concession. But we do need it – that’s part of our fundraising.”

(Interested parents can text 519-331-4252, and are also encouraged to join the SMAA Boys Baseball Facebook group).

Baxter believes the sport’s popularity is also due to its reasonable cost ($135 or $75 for younger players) and the fact that you don’t need to buy a lot of equipment.

“It’s good for the sport, and the community, and it’s going to be a good year. If anyone wants to come watch a ball game, they’d better walk, because there won’t be enough parking,” she added, with a laugh.

As for those Blue Jays, last year’s American League Division champs have been off to a slow start so far in 2016.

“They’d better smarten up,” joked Baxter. “Or next year’s numbers will go back down.”

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