There was plenty of laundry to do on Saturday, after four young baseball players from Hope had their first games of the season in soggy conditions at the Fairfield Island ball park in Chilliwack.
Cam Fossum and Jaxson Wilkins play on the Bruisers and Caleb O’Handley and Ryan Huxley are on other teams in the seven-team mosquito league of Chilliwack Minor Baseball, which is for age 10 and 11 players.
“All of our games are in Chilliwack,” said head coach Scott Wilkins, Jaxson’s dad. “Because there are seven teams, we don’t have to travel down-valley. Seven teams is pretty good.”
Scott grew up in Abbotsford, where he played hardball until age 17 and Jaxson is in his fifth year of minor ball in Chilliwack. After one year of T-ball and two of slo-pitch, this is his second year of the hardball game. Saturday, he was playing second base.
His friend Fossum started out in right field, in his first-ever game. He walked up for his first at-bat and the umpire stopped the game until the rookie tucked in his oversized shirt. Batting gloves were slowing the process, so coach Wilkins had to get into the act, helping Fossum get game-ready while spectators enjoyed the impromptu comedy act.
With lesson one out of the way, Fossum waved at a few pitches before connecting for a base hit — eventually making it back to home before the third out.
“Hitting comes pretty naturally for most kids,” said the coach, “but fielding is the toughest. They need to learn their positioning, depending on where the runners are on the bases. I like to make sure the kids are vocal out there, talking to the pitcher and calling out plays, to make sure they stay focused.
“Pitching is pretty hard to come by, too — but they get better as the season goes on.”
Rosters are small, so no one has to spend much time on the bench, even when everyone shows up — and there’s a philosophy of equal playing time for all, at this level.
“We have 11 players on our team and the other teams have 12,” said Wilkins. “I try and use everyone at every position. I will let anyone try pitcher and catcher.
“They find out for themselves if they want to try those spots again. At this age, we are trying to develop the players at all positions and in the older leagues — such as pee wee — they can play positions they excel at.”
Wilkins said the league had pre-season evaluations in March, to help with setting up evenly-balanced teams.
“We like the kids to come for at least one evaluation day,” he said. “Some made it to all four. We assess them for pitching, hitting, fielding and running speed.”
Games are on Saturdays and Sundays but practices are on a rotating schedule, Monday through Friday.
“We get one practice per week and we rotate the days, so kids don’t have to miss their other sports,” said Wilkins. “In the practices, I like to bounce around from skill to skill, to cut down on the dead-time and keep things moving.”
The season continues through the June 22 weekend, with the league having its own in-house playoffs.
“There’s also a chance for the boys to play in the summer league and they’ll have tryouts for that,” added Wilkins. “It starts on the July 6 weekend and goes for three weekends after that. They play in Coquitlam, Abbotsford and Maple Ridge and they play a lot of ball. We would probably form one team from the seven — unless there’s enough interest for two.”
By that time, the Wilkins will be transitioning to minor football, where Scott is head coach for Jaxson’s team.
Wilkins recommends that interested parents visit Chilliwack Minor Baseball’s website at cmb.goalline.ca to get information for next season’s registration.
“Online, I think you can start registering in January,” said Wilkins. “They also have in-person registration in January and February. It’s $150 for the season and players have to bring their own glove, helmet, cleats… and protection.”