Joining the ranks of Babe Ruth baseball was never too complicated for the Manteca area players graduating from Little League.
That was until this year.
The Manteca Babe Ruth league closed its doors to the young players for the first time since the league’s inception back in the 1962. Several factors forced the Manteca Babe Ruth chapter to send kids to surrounding leagues to play America’s pastime.
“It has been a gradual decline over these past few years,” Manteca Babe Ruth president Michele Tahija said. “The Little Leagues (Manteca, Spreckels Park, Northgate) adopted a Juniors program, and the Juniors program is for the 13 and 14 year olds. They also wanted the 14-year-olds who weren’t playing high school to have the option where they could open their season earlier.
“Historically, Manteca Babe Ruth has been solely 13-year-olds playing with 13-year-olds, now there are other options”
Manteca’s Babe Ruth took a direct hit with the addition of the other teams. Little League currently has teams in each of the three local leagues in the 13-15 year-old division. Kids and parents were no longer focused on which option was best for a player’s development, but rather which option was simply the best for scheduling.
With Manteca Babe Ruth’s doors closed, a group of Manteca players found their best option in the Ripon Babe Ruth league.
“I was going to play for the Manteca Babe Ruth, but I found out they didn’t have it anymore,” Ripon Red Sox and Manteca resident Chris Estrada said. “But I still wanted to play and Ripon was having their signups in Manteca so I signed up there. At first I felt kind of nervous because I didn’t know anybody, but after awhile I got to know everybody and got used to it.
“It seems like normal out here now.”
Little League’s version of Babe Ruth, Junior and Senior Leagues, have seemingly eclipsed the Babe Ruth option when players depart from the 12-year-old Little League diamonds and progress to the next level. Along with the travel ball circuit, families have several options, nullifying any one league’s standout appeal.
With Ripon’s numbers growing over the past two seasons, its Babe Ruth chapter was more than ready to try and accommodate the Manteca players. For a player without travel ball aspirations, or a desire to play in the junior Little League format, Ripon’s Babe Ruth became the promised land.
“We got contacted by the Babe Ruth Commissioner of Northern California,” Ripon Babe Ruth Commissioner Len Birlew said. “And they just asked us to help out Manteca because they were going to phase out of Babe Ruth.
“As a board, we decided to go over there and we got with the people that were running it and did what we could in a short period of time.”
With the late wave of Manteca players Ripon did what they were able to do to get players on teams, but not all players were able to land with a squad. Ripon only had so many coaches in place to guide its teams, highlighting the real problem behind the league’s current situation.
“I could have probably put together another team with more players that were from Manteca,” Birlew said. “That’s if I would have had the coaching staff. With the late notice that we had and not having any of the parents out of the Manteca area step up to the plate that was the obstacle that we had to overcome.”
There is little question as to the number of kids who want to play at the Babe Ruth level, the question falls on the shoulders of the Manteca Babe Ruth chapter and its ability to provide accommodation for the players.
“I am absolutely not giving up,” Tahija expressed emphatically when asked about the league’s future. “I am not giving up. Unfortunately, this year we didn’t have enough to create a league of our own and I had to let them got to Ripon, but I’m going to start early registration next year.
“I am going to try again next year and I am not giving up. Babe Ruth has been in town for years. It’s necessary; we have to have it.”