A League Of Their Own 5

More than 500 local kids participate annually in Southeast Valley Baseball

Each spring Draper and Sandy residents will see kids at local parks donning official looking uniforms with the logos of Major League Baseball (MLB) teams embroidered on their jerseys or emblazoned on their baseball caps. That can only mean one thing: The Southeast Valley Baseball Association (SVBA) season has officially begun.

“SVBA has chosen to use MLB team names and logos to help kids become excited about baseball and feel more a part of baseball. It makes the experience fun and exciting,” said Sarah Nelsen, CEO of the SVBA board of directors.

“Using MLB teams helps the kids live out a dream of playing in the major leagues. I remember every team that I played on when I played little league. It helps create a stronger connection to MLB teams. My kids have picked their favorite MLB teams and all of them are from teams they have played on,” said Paul England who is in charge of uniforms for SVBA.

The league began in 2000, serving boys and girls ages five to 18, and it continues to run strong with an average annual registration of 550 baseball players. That breaks down to roughly 50 teams annually among the 7 divisions of SVBA. Those divisions include Rookie (T-ball ages 5-6), Machine Pitch (ages 6-7), Pee Wee (ages 7-8), Minors (ages 9-10), Majors (ages 11-12), Babe Ruth (ages 13-15) and High School (ages 16-18).

SVBA is an affiliate of the Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth organization and is a competitive league. Being an affiliate of Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth affords the ability to play in tournaments against other affiliated leagues with the potential to advance from state and regional tournaments all the way through to the Little League World Series. The affiliation with the nationally recognized league also provides structure and accountability for the local organization as well as game rules and standards for tryouts.

“The goal of our league is to provide instruction and competitive opportunity. We have options for intact competitive teams to compete, but we also welcome new players. Our goal is to teach them and develop them in a competitive baseball environment,” said Bo Jensen, president of the SBVA board.

Long before the first “crack” sound that comes with a ball hitting a baseball bat, Southeast Valley Baseball gets underway. The twelve-member board of directors begins meeting on a monthly basis in August to plan ahead for the season and fundraising, then they meet more frequently beginning in January in preparation for spring baseball. It’s a team effort on the part of the board, coordinating everything from the uniforms, trophies, players, fields, umpires, sponsorships and equipment. All of this to organize a nine-week regular season and any All-Star or tournament play that happens once the regular season is complete.

Bo Jensen will serve as president of SVBA with the assistance of board members Ashley Boyle, Jon Clifford, Paul England, Valerie Fisher, Randy Hall, Cathy Knowlson, Sarah Nelsen, Annie Newman, Tom Newman, Tom Penrose and Mike Switzer.

SVBA is a non-profit organization, with all coaches and board members working on a volunteer basis. The only paid positions for the league are umpires for the games. Those umpires are often former or current players or anyone with a good knowledge of the game who is willing to assist in that capacity.

Registration for SVBA opens the third Friday in January and closes the first week of March. Following the close of registration, a “draft” or player assessment takes place in an effort to fairly divide the players among their age-appropriate teams. Then teams, coaches and schedules are finalized. Everyone who signs up by the registration deadline is guaranteed a spot on a SVBA team. Games happen Monday-Friday with each team typically playing one or two games per week in addition to practices. Rained out games can wreak havoc on set schedules for 50 teams, so Wednesdays are often reserved for make-up games.

The season officially begins with opening ceremonies held at Galena Park. “The opening ceremony is a way to bring our baseball families together to kick off the new season. As players move through divisions, they make a lot of friends along the way. Opening ceremony is a fun time for these players to reconnect and build excitement for the season,” Cathy Knowlson said. The league invites guest speakers to the ceremony to share personal baseball experiences or speak about community and the importance of team sports, or to share a positive, inspirational message.

Scores are kept at all SVBA games and submitted to the league after each game so that official scores as well as league-standings can be posted on the SVBA website. The site also highlights Home Run Derby Club members. At the team level, coaches are encouraged to choose an MVP from each game and award that player a game ball.

Closing ceremonies to celebrate the season are held in June at Galena Park when trophies and medals are handed out and All-Star selections are announced.

SVBA had one of their teams go farther than ever before this past spring. The 11U (age eleven and under) Shock were state champions and went on to play in the regional tournament in Long Beach, California. “It is the first team from SVBA to advance to a regional tournament. We ended up losing all four games there, but we learned a lot and had a great time,” said Sarah Nelsen, parent of Shock players Bryce and Conner.

The team the Shock played against in Long Beach will go on to the 2018 Little League World Series. After watching this year’s Little League World Series on television and realizing his son’s SVBA team had played against a team who will be in the Little League World Series next year, Mark Stock said, “Very close to home…our boys were in that tournament. We need to cherish that. We are one lucky, skilled and blessed team!”

Justin Sutherland was one of the Shock coaches. “More so than coaching, it’s about the heart of the kids. We started practicing at an old Sports Authority building in West Valley City in late January. Keeping their spirits up, keeping their hearts in the game, learning from their mistakes and getting better from that, I think that’s the biggest thing. Even though we lost every game (at regionals), they realized how great they were to be there, how great they could be, and how much better they could get,” Sutherland said.

Members of the state championship Shock team were Nicholas Bassani, Tyson Kelly, Bryce Nelsen, Conner Nelsen, Kameron Stock, Deagan Thayne, Logan Thayne, Tyler Trapp, Jacob Troast, Noah Kim and Saimone Hafoka.

SVBA also had a 10U (ages 10 and under) primary team take second place at this year’s state tournament.

Play ball!