With the school holidays drawing to a close at the end of this month, Blue Sox Junior players across all age-groups will be returning to Western Park to start their preparations for our biggest-ever youth baseball post-season.
Under 19’s - class of 2012 set to graduate
Our oldest age-group originally began when our Blue Sox Junior programme was launched in February 2012. Amazingly the involvement of the majority this squad can be traced back to this inaugural year. A real testament to the work of the Blue Sox coaching staff, especially u19 Team Coach Phil Rudkin who has worked with these players for all five seasons of Blue Sox Juniors.
With players moving onto university this year and next, this sadly seems like it will be the last season this team will be competing together on the baseball diamond but they are set to go out with a bang at the upcoming 2016 Youth National Baseball Championships.
Last season they finished a respectable fourth place in the Nationals after qualifying as the BBF Youth North Champions. This year there is no prior qualifier and our under 19’s go straight into the YNBC in what is expected to be a traditional ‘final four’ tournament with teams from London, or possibly a three-team round robin.
Under 15’s - first taste of YNBCs
One of the challenges we faced a couple of years into our Blue Sox Junior programme, was the establishment of a second junior team in the next age group down. The club initially struggled to recruit and retain such players but things started to fall into place by the end of the 2014 season when an under 13 was formed from scratch and entered into the BSUK Play Ball! Championship against Hull Junior Scorpions.
Becoming an under 14 team last season, we attracted more players but once again faced a superior Hull side, this time in the BBF Youth North Qualifier. We also enjoyed a great series of games with Halton Polecats, which yielded our first-ever competitive win.
2015 was closed-out at via our first-ever entry into the Herts Futures Tournament.
This year our Under 15 players have been combined with
selected under 11 players to form a 'Midlands Little League' featuring two
internal club teams ‘Saints and Dragons’. The initiative has helped address the
enduring problem of long distance travel and also increase the number of
regular season games played. The furthest our players had to travel this season was Stourbridge in the West Midlands.
With a Little League 'finale' at Western Park scheduled for Saturday 20 August, the under 15’s then follow this up with an appearance in the u16 YNBC Div 2 tournament at Farnham Park two weeks later.
Little Sox under 10s
The growth of the Little Sox programme this season has been
nothing short of staggering. With over 60 players signed-up before opening day
and the majority of them invading Western Park throughout the spring and
summer, we have needed to split the kids into two age-groups (under 11 and under 7).
The majority of the oldest age-group have been playing tee-ball for a couple of years and were introduced to coach-pitch mid-way through last season. The brave step to progress them quickly into machine-pitch baseball has paid dividends with a surprise bronze medal finish at the under 11 UK Little League (Machine Pitch) Championships in June.
Little Sox are back at Farnham Park on Sunday 4 August but will be joined by a larger number of teams, as the machine-pitch format starts to catch on. We are still likely to be one of the youngest teams at this tournament, but our coaches are confident we can once gain hang with the bigger kids!
Herts Futures Tournament – Under 13s and Under 8s
HFT is the traditional end of the junior season, held one week after the YNBCs. It has a more inclusive feel playing shortened games to enable play against as many teams as possible in a single day.
We will be using the opportunity to experiment with different combination of players. Our ‘under 13’ team will comprise players at the youngest end of our under 15 programme, coupled with our most developed Little Sox under 11 players.
Additionally we will be entering an ‘under 8’ team, which will blend our younger Little Sox under 11 kids with emerging talent from our under 7 tee-ball programme.
We can’t wait to see how these teams fair, especially those who have not played competitive baseball before.
Junior Teams Manager Matt Crawshaw summarised “I have to admit I was extremely worried for the future of our programme just two years ago. Phil and I were scratching our heads wondering how we were going to be able to keep the programme going with just one team, getting older by the year. Then all of a sudden, our hardwork of the first couple of years not only started paying dividends, it has multiplied them across a greater number of age-groups than we ever thought imaginable.”
He added “The growth of Little Sox this year has exceeded all expectations and I have been very grateful to Dan Zinnikas and Steve Rollins stepping-up to not only support, but lead our Little Sox coaching effort. It will be a sad moment to see the last-ever under 19s games played next month, it has been a helluva journey with its ups and downs – but we’ve kept going in face of tremendous adversity. Seeing our class of 2012 'graduate' this post-season will be one of the key moments in our 10th Anniversary year. There will be sadness, but it is also exciting we have another three age-groups coming through which secures a bright future for the Junior programme in the years’ to come. Let’s go Blue Sox!"