Every spring over 1,100 kids between 5 and 18 grab a glove, bat and ball and hit the diamonds in Welles Park, 2333 W. Sunnyside Ave. The squads playing Abner Doubleday’s game are participating in the Welles Park Parent Association’s Youth Baseball League, one of the most popular in the city.
Registration for returning players begins January 3 and new players can sign up on January 14.
It all started, says WPPA board member and Registration Chair David Nemeroff, when the Chicago Park District cancelled its own youth baseball league. Since then, it’s grown more and more successful every year.
“Last year, says Nemeroff, “we had a waiting list of 250 to get in.” While WPPA doesn’t keep information on all the participating players, “We keep track of the waiting list and about 80% of the people were from the 47th Ward, a smattering from everywhere else. So we estimate 66-70% of our players come from the 47th Ward.”
Practices start in April. Games start to be played in May and are played through the month of July when playoffs are held.
Each team plays 14 games plus playoffs, which are single elimination with every team qualified to participate. Typically, says Nemeroff, teams play three or four games to get to the league world series, in the higher age groups they play a best of three in the world series. There’s also a consolution round, kind of like the National Invitational Tournament of youth baseball.
While the program hasn’t graduated any famous players, plenty of major leaguers’ offspring have played in the league, including the kids of former Cubs manager Dusty Baker and former Cubs shortstop Ryan Theriot.
Most of the program is paid for by sponsorships, which run $550 per business to get a business’s name on a jersey. Think “Chico’s Bail Bonds” in The Bad News Bears, and you’ve got the idea.
The high number of sponsorships make it possible for the league to keep player fees down, says Nemeroff, so that players pay between $125 and $160 a season, depending on their age.
Both boys and girls play, and the league has a policy to place at least two girls on each team.
On January 3 registration for returning players opens online. If kids play one year and have a sibling, the league will guarantee a spot for both, so long as they register by January 13. On January 14, online pre-registration opens for new players.
“Once that closes we have a lottery system where we literally pick a number out of a hat to choose who gets priority to get in the league,” says Nemeroff. “At the 5-6 year old league, when people sign up they get a number and then we file that in chronological order.”