For the last five years, some baseball enthusiasts feel there has been a void in amateur baseball in the Baltimore area. Brooks Norris and his father, Tim, are hoping to do something about it.
Tim and Brooks want to re-establish a Baltimore-area summer baseball league for high school age kids like there was in the old days. They argue that today, most of the good baseball players play on weekend travel teams only. Those travel teams showcase their talents during the summer only, and the kids don't play enough during the week to hone their skills and get better.
Brooks is the head coach at Archbishop Curley. Tim is his son's pitching coach, and the manager of the Youse's Maryland Orioles, a collegiate baseball team based in Linthicum, Md.
Previously, Youse's Maryland Orioles have played in the highly competitive Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate League. Now, the team is dropping down an age group and going back to its roots.
"We dropped out of the Ripken league, but we're finding out there are a lot of other [aged] 16-18 teams in the area that have been established and are very good," Tim said. "We're not the lone horse in the barn anymore."
Brooks will run the new-look Youse's Maryland Orioles, and his dad will serve as the team's pitching coach. Orioles scout Dean Albany will continue to run the organization, and the team will continue to play its home games at Bachman Park in Glen Burnie, Md.
An All-Metro pitcher at Brooklyn Park High School in 1980 and 1981, Albany played for Youse's Maryland Orioles in the early 1980s, and managed the team when Walter Youse passed away at the age of 88 in 2002.
Albany's teams won six straight All-American Amateur Baseball Association championships in Johnstown, Pa., before he turned the team over to Norris in the brand new Cal Ripken Sr. League.
Now, Brooks and Tim are hoping to start a new U18 league that would fill a void in area amateur baseball. For the last five years, the majority of amateur teams in the area have played during the summer -- in weekend showcase events on the East Coast, and not local age group leagues that were the heart of Baltimore baseball for about 60 years.
"Everybody now, from 11 years old and up, is playing nothing but weekend tournaments, showcase events," Brooks said. "The local leagues have gotten weaker and weaker, and we feel it's really been the downfall of youth baseball around here. We're trying to put together a 16-game local schedule with some other teams in the area, and get back to having kids in this age group play more than just a couple of days during the weekend. Hopefully, we can build it into what it once was -- great baseball during the week."
Brooks has been in contact with Steve Miller, the former head coach of Archbishop Spalding. Miller now runs the Rawlings A's Prospects of Maryland, a seven-team organization from Gambrills, Md., that plays in weekend showcase events. Miller manages one of the U17 teams, along with assistant coaches Brendan McGowan and Mike Bronakowski.
Brooks is also hoping the Maryland Monarchs will join the league. The Monarchs are based in Anne Arundel County, and are one of the state's premier amateur programs. Started by former Arundel head coach Bernie Walter, the Monarchs feature a variety of teams at the 16, 17 and 18-year-old levels and an all-star coaching staff that includes Walter, U18 manager Tom Keating, and coaches Neal Herrick and Steve Doherty, who were were both terrific Baltimore Sun All-Metro players for Walter at Arundel High School.
Other teams in the region that Tim and Brooks hope join the new league are the Mid-Atlantic Red Sox from Frederick and the All-Star Baseball Academy of Pennsylvania, although the ultimate goal is to create a new league filled with local teams and local players.
Several local organizations field U16 or U19 teams that play in the Mid-Atlantic Baseball Association, while the Monarchs also play in the Eddie Brooks League of Anne Arundel County.
Years ago, Putty Hill and the Yankee Rebels were two of the many teams that played in the Baltimore City-Wide U16 league. Others were the Brooklyn Optimists, Highland Federal, Salvation Army, Severna Park and Edreco. Teams played anywhere from 50-80 games during the summer, with Cardinal Gibbons tournament final at the end of the season.
Marty Meloy, Francis and Joe Palmer, Sterling "Sheriff" Fowble and Pat O'Malley were among the high-profile coaches, while the teams produced a plethora of outstanding high school and college players.
The Baltimore Major League was an unlimited league that featured Leone's-Johnny's, A&S Contractors, Southwest, the Presstman Cardinals and Colonial Ramblers. The league featured many future and former major league players.
Now, there's no league in the city, and Tim has noticed an erosion in how the game is played.
"The talent level has dropped off in the state the last few years," said Tim, who also runs the Oriolelanders fall showcase scout team and was a Baltimore Sun All-Metro pitcher for Curley before he was drafted by the Orioles in 1978. He pitched in the Orioles farm system for five years.
"Going back, even 10 years ago, the Baltimore Metro League was one of the premier leagues in the state, but folded because the quality started to suffer," Tim said. "Parents started going to what I call ‘Weekend Warrior' events, showcase events. There are some college coaches there and some exposure. But the problem is, Monday through Thursday, the kids aren't doing anything. They're not playing any games.
"I get the part about going to play better competition. That's great, but the sport of baseball is about repetition. The more you play the better you get, so we're trying to put together a strong city league and still leave some weekends open to travel."
"The idea is to get the best teams in the area to play during the week," Brooks said. "Give the guys a chance to play games that are meaningful and competitive without driving 1,000 miles on the weekends. To play baseball the way it was supposed to be played. Not sit around all week and do nothing. Play every day and not just travel on weekends."
Like club lacrosse and club soccer, playing a summer of amateur baseball showcase events is not cheap.
"It's very expensive," Tim said. "It can run you from eight to 12 grand a summer with all the travel -- hotels, food. You're traveling to Georgia, Florida, South Carolina every weekend."
The challenge now for Brooks and Tim is to field a competitive team. The decision to drop out of the Cal Ripken Sr. League was made a few months ago, so most of the teams in the area are already filled with commitments.
This year's Youse's U18 team will play in five showcase events this summer: the Millersville University Showcase tournament, the Dynamic Team Tournament, the Dynamic Wood Bat Championships, the Perfect Game of the World Wood Bat Association and the Impact Baseball World Series.
"We got started a little late, so we're still putting our roster together," Brooks said. "Some of our kids obviously are from Curley. Some are from other schools around the state."
Among the Curley players on this year's Youse's summer team are junior Damond Nixon and his freshman brother, Paul; junior pitcher/infielder Jack Cassidy; junior outfielder/pitcher Jonathan Brice; freshman catcher Trent Gast-Woodard; catcher/infielder Joe Burack; and infielder Danny Goucher.
"We're still building, and we have to make the transition from college-age players to the younger guys," Brooks said. "I think some parents like the idea of staying local. It's certainly less expensive. Once we prove that it's going to work, and it's a better option, not only from a baseball perspective, where guys can learn the game and get better day in and day out, I think it will be a win-win for everybody."
For Tim and Brooks, growing the game locally again is the ultimate goal.
"Back in the day, there wasn't just one or two teams who were good," Tim said. "It was four, five and six teams. The goal is to get this started this year -- play some games in a summer league. The long-term goal is to get this city league going with five, six, seven or eight really good teams. That's a lot of kids playing really good baseball. They're out there, but they're traveling. Hopefully, they'll buy into the league we're talking about forming."