Baseball is making a comeback in the heart of Wichita thanks to League 42, a nonprofit youth baseball program.
During the 2014 inaugural season, League 42 fielded 16 teams, composed of four age groups and a total of 225 players. Bob Lutz is League 42’s founder, chairman of the board and a sports columnist for The Wichita Eagle; he estimates that more than 300 players will participate in the upcoming season.
Player registration is currently open for the league’s second season. Games and practices will take place at the two baseball diamonds in McAdams Park near 17th and Wabash. Registration fees are $30 per family, and the league provides everything players need on the field: glove, hat, pants, shirt and belt. Everything except shoes.
“We strongly believe that every kid should have the opportunity to play baseball,” Lutz said. “That was the genesis of League 42.”
The league is meant to break down barriers that have built up around baseball in recent decades. The most significant impact on the decline of baseball in the inner city is the cost. Even at the youth level, bats are priced up to $250, and gloves can cost $130. Add in travel expenses and registration fees, and many kids cannot afford to play baseball without a low-cost alternative.
“We take great interest in the players and their families,” said Lutz, who is responsible for assembling a dedicated volunteer corps and involvement from community organizations including the Boys and Girls Club of South Central Kansas, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Northeast Optimist Club.
According to Eileen Watson, mother of five players ranging in age from 5 to 14, the league and volunteer coaches are making a significant impact in the lives of the players and their families well beyond teaching them the game of baseball.
“League 42 reinforces what I am trying to teach my kids,” says Watson. “Try hard, and never give up.” Important life skills such as sportsmanship, confidence and teamwork are integrated into the game of baseball and modeled by the coaches, according to Watson.
Volunteers keep connected to families throughout the year offering skills clinics and social activities in addition to league games. A few players and their families, including Watson and her two eldest sons Coby and Jakari, even experienced a Royals game last season.
"A life is not important except in the impact it has on
other lives." — Jackie Robinson
League 42 was named in honor of baseball legend Jackie Robinson, the Hall of Fame player who in 1947 became the first African-American to play in the major leagues. Robinson was the youngest of five children raised by his single mother, so he serves as a significant role model to the youth in League 42.
“I am so grateful for this league and that my children have the chance to develop their personal character as well as baseball fundamentals before they go to high school,” said Watson. “What League 42 has done for me and my kids is .... well, you can’t put a price on it.”
316-440-4542 | League42.org
Registering players now. Donations of new and gently used equipment can be dropped of at McAdams Recreation Center.