BY DEAN HOCKNEY
KOKOMO, Ind. – Much has been said about the long and glorious history of baseball in the City of Firsts. But for years, youth baseball has been on the decline when it comes to the number of players suiting up and hitting the diamond. There are many theories on why baseball numbers are falling, but one local man has a thought and is doing something about it.
“Baseball can be expensive to play when you factor in gloves and cleats and bats and pants,” said Kevin Sprinkle. “And most local leagues charge around $70 to play – that can add up.”
Sprinkle said he had an idea on a way to help alleviate the expense of baseball – develop an equipment swap program. He came up with the idea while volunteering in a local school.
“I do a lot of mentoring at Bon Air School and some of those kids have played baseball at Northside Youth Baseball League,” he said. “I have seen a lot of kids who don’t have the correct gear or the right fitting gear. I have noticed declining enrollment in youth baseball and I know part of the reason is the cost.”
He talked to several experts in the local baseball community and realized that there is equipment sitting in garages and basements that are in great shape and could be reused. He said that a pair of cleats might be worn one year, then the player outgrows them and the cleats sit at home unused when another young player could get a year of use out of them. Sprinkle said the same thing could be done with bats and pants as players get older and need new sizes.
“My kids are older and I had baseball gear left in my garage,” said Sprinkle. “If we have old stuff, why don’t we try and use it. I called Travis Taflinger at Bridges Outreach – he has kids playing at UCT – and we talked about it and decided a swap would work well. Think about it, someone could drop off a size eight cleats and get a size 10 – this way, it is not charity but rather people helping others out.”
Sprinkle said this was a recent idea and he knows they are behind the eight ball. But he envisions this becoming an annual tradition and is gearing for the swap to surround the annual City-Wide Youth Baseball Sign-Ups that take place each January.
“The idea is to be at the sign-ups since everyone has to come out – and this is before the actual tryouts when the kids will need the gear,” said Sprinkle. “I have seen kids show up with bad gear or no gear at tryouts and practice. Travis Taflinger and (Post 6 manager) Don Andrews and I will be at sign-ups and we can help manage the swap. We can also try and help repair gloves if they need some new lace or leather or size kids into shoes.”
Taflinger said the first weekend of the baseball equipment swap was a success with several youth players participating. The second session of the Annual City-Wide Youth Baseball Registration will take place on Feb. 4 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Maple Crest Middle School new gym (enter through door 5). This registration is for the four youth baseball leagues located in the city of Kokomo – Eastside, Northside, UCT and Southside and registration costs vary per league. Registration is open to any player between the ages of 4-12 and a copy of a birth certificate is required.
While it is a swap, Sprinkle stressed that, “You don’t have to bring something to get something.” Organizers will assist players who are in need.
For those who simply want to drop off new or used equipment in advance, two drop-off locations are available: the Kokomo Herald office at 207 N. Buckeye St. and the Kokomo-Howard County Public Library main downtown branch.
For more information on the baseball gear swap, text Sprinkle at (765) 860-4942.
For more information on baseball registration, please contact the local league presidents: Ken Carter at Eastside, (765) 432-7990; Robbie Pattengale at Northside, (765) 210-7586; Kevin Stout at Southside, (765) 398-6176; and Andy Keating at UCT, (765) 434-4542.