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By Derek Harryman, staff writer
Babe Ruth Baseball League, a tradition in Manchester for decades, will not have a league this year.
According to board member David Eldridge, there “simply wasn’t enough interest” to keep the struggling league going another season.
“There simply isn’t going to be enough interest to form a league this year,” said Eldridge. “I know that Babe Ruth has been around forever but I feel like this has been the trend for a long time now and it was somewhat inevitable.”
The league was close to not having enough players last season when Central High School head baseball coach Brent Whitlock gave his players the option of playing high school summer ball or Babe Ruth. This season, according to Eldridge, the coach told them they could play Babe Ruth in addition to summer league and that drastically cut the number of older players interested in playing Babe Ruth.
Another obstacle that hurt the league, said Eldridge, is the formation of the 13 year-old league in youth baseball.
“The numbers have been steadily declining for the past few years due to high school baseball being more of a time commitment than it used to be and the rise in travel ball,” said Eldridge. “Around 70 percent of the 13 year olds stayed down in Little League last year and that was a big hit. Combined with the high school kids playing summer ball we just didn’t have the numbers.”
The league has seen its numbers go down over the last few years. In 2012 there were only enough players for five teams and in 2013 that number went down to four teams.
Last year, the 14-year-old age group was the largest in the league and Eldridge hopes to form a 15-year-old travel team this year to compete in Babe Ruth tournaments. There are several other towns in Tennessee who do not have Babe Ruth leagues but do have travel teams who compete in Babe Ruth tournaments.
When asked about league funds, Eldridge says there isn’t much money in the current Babe Ruth account but if a travel team is formed, he would like to see that money spent on the team.
“What little money left in that account I would like to see spent on the kids locally and if we didn’t have a travel team, I am pretty sure any funds would have to be turned over the State Babe Ruth Association.”
Eldridge explained that more kids playing on scholarship the last few years and failed fundraisers have helped deplete the account.
“More and more kids playing in the last few years have been on scholarship and so we have had to do more fundraising and a couple of those didn’t go very well. We had to do the best we could with what funds we had,” said Eldridge. “We hosted a state tournament last year but only made $83 after giving Babe Ruth their share and paying the expenses.”
Eldridge said he wants to talk to the returning coaches and see who would be interested in coaching the travel team. Any players who would be interested in playing on the team should contact him at (931) 581-3012.