A league of their own: Gering Organized Baseball
     2016-06-17      By Frank Marquez    editor@geringcitizen.com
­Frank Marquez/Gering Citizen Domingo Gomez, 8, leaps up to snag a line drive headed to third base at a recent game between the A’s and the Cards in Gering Organized Baseball’s 7-8 year old division. 
At a game in which the A’s played the Cardinals on a sunny Thursday evening in June at Field No. 5, just a baseball’s throw away from the Legion players going head to head at the adjacent Legion field – part of the large complex at Oregon Trail Park in Gering – the A’s, sponsored by Dietrich Distributing, fielded 11 players. Some of the players’ bats appeared to be just as long and unwieldy as their natures. The tots in green and red uniforms switched between yawning in the outfield, running carefree around the bases, and sliding into home plate for the sheer joy of it.

The A’s were coached that day by league Commissioner Austin Freeburg, and assistants Josh Tuttle and Tim Marquez. “The league uses a pitching machine,” Marquez said, and has for the past two years. “It gets them used to someone throwing it to you. The kids can hit a live ball, instead of hitting it off a T.” Most of them graduated from playing T-ball the previous year.

Only a few of the players are unfamiliar with the blue contraption catapulting baseballs over home plate. Family, mostly parents, and the kids’ friends offered plenty of high-pitched encouragement. Coaches on both teams helped all the boys with batting and positioning.

All batters took their turns swinging, each one getting a chance to hit at six balls loaded into the machine by the opposing team’s coach. Others took their places in the infield and outfield ready to pick off grounders and flies. There are no outs unless a runner is tagged out while running, and the final at-bat sends a cascade of runners to home plate. Commonly, the bases are loaded. Team size plays no role, but there are usually no more than 12 boys on a team.

“This is the 50th year Gering Organized Baseball has been chartered with Nebraska Babe Ruth, and organization which sanctions GO. Gering’s city baseball played its first season in 1962, then chartered with Babe Ruth four years later,” said current President Travis Gable, whose grandfather is Don Gable Sr., one of four original founders and the first vice president. The other three were President George Tripple, Secretary Archie Hall, and Treasurer Pat Martindale. This is Travis’ first year as president after serving as commissioner in two other age divisions. “This is my fourth year of being involved with the organization,” he said.

Travis got involved because was he asked to volunteer to help out by other organization board members and commissioners, some knowing his pedigree as an experienced player and coach. He was raised on GO with baseball in his blood. He played in high school for the Twin Cities Zephyrs, and then with UN-Kearney as a center fielder. Now, he’s passing the mantle. “I’ve got one son playing with the 9-10 year-olds,” Travis said. “Bo bounces around from position to position, but that’s how they are at that age.”

As the president, Travis hesitates to say how much time he spends doing his job. He gets the ball rolling (forgive the pun) by setting meetings, handing out charter and insurance information, and designing and managing schedules for 25 teams, in six leagues from T-ball to the 15-year olds – roughly 290 players. That means a lot of time meeting with people on the field during a season that stretches from May through July, and does not include the post-season if teams from the 9-15 year olds play well enough at the state, regional, and national levels.

For the teams that compete in the local and state tournaments, there are six age groups including T-ball (6 or younger), 7-8, 9-10, 11-12, 13-15, and 9-15. For the Gering teams if they win the state tournament, they have the opportunity to compete at the Midwest Plains Regional. Representing Nebraska, they will play against teams from Colorado, Iowa, Missouri, Minnesota, and South Dakota.

The regional champions go all the way play in single-age divisions at the Cal Ripken World Series in New Jersey, which should not be confused with the Little World Series played in Pennsylvania. The national league affiliation grants GO Baseball the right to compete in these tournaments.

According to Travis, the little guys competing in the T-ball, and 7-8 year-old leagues are affiliated with Babe Ruth in name only.
They are considered part of the minor divisions, unless they play up. Because the 7-8 league uses a pitching machine league, they are not as competitive, and moving up to the next age group is rare. They can’t play in a tourney until they’re 9 because chartering and insuring players becomes a factor. In essence, the competition for the youngest players must be considered, “a stepping stone toward playing in the more competitive leagues,” Travis said.

One of the A’s players Rece Knight’s mom Kory, sitting next to her husband Russ in the wooden bleachers during the game, said, “GO is a good organization. We come out to the ballpark to watch our son learn. This is Rece’s third year, and second year with the throwing machine.” The reason Rece joined GO? “He has to stay involved in all kinds of things to stay out of trouble,” Kory said, laughing.

Another A’s parent, Michaela Arellano was willing to put her worries aside for her son to play baseball. Her son Domingo Gomez has a rare condition called adrenoleukodystrophy. If he suffers any kind of serious head trauma, the injury could leave him in a vegetative state. “I’m his No. 1 fan,” Arellano said. “This is his third year. His older brother Xavier never took interest. So, this is all a new experience. He’s willing to try all kinds of sports. This year, he’ll even try football. I leave it in God’s hands.” Arellano paused for a moment to watch the game in which Domingo, leaving his feet, snatched a line drive to third base.
“He’s the one with the smile. Domingo’s always smiling.”

One of the player’s fathers Brandon Fritton was at the game to watch his 7-year-old son Cyrus in his second year. “Last year, he played T-ball with the Marlins. So far, this year, he comes kicking and screaming to the games, but loves it when he’s finally here. He was hit in practice, so he was afraid of the ball for a while. Since then, he’s been OK with wearing his helmet.”

Fritton, a lifelong resident of Gering who played the schools’ organized sports, said he wants Cyrus to “experience the thrill and the rush of excitement of the game, more than just playing with his brother and sister.”

After their latest win on June 14, Tuesday, the A’s remain undefeated, but at this age, wins and losses matter far less than the boys having fun. The glint in their eyes, and the genuine smiles on their faces say long live summer.

To Travis, it’s about the lessons the game teaches. He said, “Baseball is one of America’s oldest sports. It teaches character, class, honesty, and integrity – all those things boys learn at an early age; we hope they carry these values throughout life. The things they learn on the baseball field can and will directly affect them in adulthood.”

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