Recreational baseball and travel ball leagues each have their advantages. For rec ball, it’s the fun of playing with your neighborhood buddies. For travel ball, it’s gaining more expertise from more competitive games.
But now, Mission Bay Youth Baseball (MBYB) coach Lee Silber is offering ball players the best of both worlds.
“Baseball brings people together,” Silber told PB Monthly, “so we want to create that opportunity where you can play in your own community, but not sacrifice getting better as a player.”
MBYB, a PONY (Protect Our Nation’s Youth) league was founded in 1956 and plays on the Bob McEvoy field at 2701 Grand Ave. Beginning this season, the league is offering weekly baseball clinics to enhance the skills of girls and boys, ages 5-14.
Baseball experts including hitting coaches, pitching instructors, fielding gurus, college and high school coaches — along with some former professional baseball coaches — are collaborating with MBYB to host free clinics included in the sign-up price for MBYB’s upcoming season, which runs Feb. 29 through May 31.
(MBYB makes an effort, when possible, to work with military families who may transfer to the area after the season has started.)
Additionally, the teams will travel more in 2020 than in previous years, giving players more experience on fields away from home.
All divisions are priced at $225 per player, except the Shetland (beginners T-ball) division, which is priced at $150. The cost includes a practice jersey, hat and uniform to keep, plus admission to the free clinics.
“You build lifelong friendships — both the kids and the parents — at the rec baseball level in baseball,” Silber emphasized. “It’s all the neighborhood people playing and hanging out together.”
On Jan. 25, players will be assessed to create teams of equal skill levels to ensure games are evenly matched.
“No one wants to be 0 in 12. I guess the other team is happy at 12, but that’s not good either,” Silber opined. “What would you learn from that? There’s something to be learned from a loss here and there.”
Silber said he came up with the idea of bringing in specialists when he realized rec baseball was losing players who wanted to attain the expertise of travel ball. Now, with weekly clinics on Fridays, Sundays or mid-week, he insists: “You don’t need to go elsewhere. You can play right near your own backyard and still get really top-notch instruction.”
But for MBYB, it’s more than hitting line drives and rounding bases.
“It’s not just about the game,” Silber said, “because most of these kids will never play baseball past high school. But you can learn a lot of life lessons from baseball ... like why team work is so important and why it matters to get to practice on time.
“I want the kids I coach to realize later in life, ‘Wow, I learned from my coach. I tried as hard as I could, it maybe didn’t end up how I thought it would, but I can hold my head high cause I gave it my all.’ ”
Silber pointed out that former major league baseball player Joel Skinner of the White Sox and New York Yankees played in the MBYB league during before attending Mission Bay High School.
“We want our kids to do well, but we want to teach them about teamwork and sportsmanship, and how to win with grace and lose with style — that’s not the right quote,” he said with a laugh, “but you know what I mean. We’re trying to do that by leading by example. We’re trying to select coaches who embody that.”
Unlike Little League, which has strict regulations that require players live in or attend school in the boundaries of the league they play in, the PONY ball league has more flexibility. Silber said MBYB has participants from Clairemont, Point Loma, La Jolla and other coastal communities.
“We’re the local league and we’re trying to bring in all the local kids and teach them how to play baseball better in an atmosphere where it’s good baseball, good people and we’re having a good time.”
In addition to baseball games, throughout the season MBYB hosts Kids vs Parents games followed by a barbecue; attends Padres games as a league two or three times; and will host an all-day event for the league’s opening day Feb. 29.
— For more information, visit mbyb.org
About Coach Lee Silber
• Lee Silber of Mission Beach, is an award-winning author of 24 books. He is currently writing a young adult fiction novel about a girl who wants to play baseball with the boys. He said he fell in love with baseball when his family moved to San Diego in 1975 and he played his first year of Little League — awfully, he admits.
• His parents signed him up with Balboa Little League, and with the help of his coaches, he became a perennial all-star, until he chose surfing over baseball, “which I regret to this day,” he told PB Monthly.
• To get his “baseball fix,” he’s been playing in softball leagues for more than 25 years. Along the way, he coached his eldest son’s first year of baseball and discovered a talent for teaching the game in creative and fun ways, which led him to coach Mission Beach Youth Baseball for the past decade. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org