Little League program gives baseball a boost

By John Bernhardt
Times have changed but kids remain the same. Given the opportunity to explore and play the game, many youngsters still fall in love with the game of baseball.

With the proper guiding hand, today’s youngsters still discover the simple joys of the game; the twack of a fastball slamming into a catcher’s mitt, the electricity of a solid hit running through the bat and into the fingers, fielders focused and ready balanced on the balls of their feet anticipating the ball moving their way, big league dreams in the imaginations of Little Leaguers.

Dedicated parents
For Margaretville youngsters aged nine through 12, baseball’s guiding hands belong to Steve Tanzer and Jeff Reither. For the past five or six summers, Tanzer and Reither have teamed to provide local kids with a July jam packed with baseball. This summer 14 youngsters played on the Margaretville team.

“Working with kids learning to play baseball is a great thing,” marveled Tanzer. “If they were allowed, these kids would practice every night of the week. I remember doing it when I was a kid.”
Tanzer’s gang calls themselves Margaretville Mayhem. Christina Westerfeld, the only girl on the team, coined the name. Baseball activities for the Mayhem got underway sometime in June, but, for the most part, the season swallowed up the month of July. With an 11-game schedule and practices sprinkled in between, for 14 kids, their parents, Tanzer and Reither, July equaled baseball.

Tanzer hopes that by the end of the season his charges get a good taste of baseball. Players aren’t locked into set positions and are encouraged to experiment playing different parts of the field. Of course, the coaches balance safety concerns with field placement, locating younger, less experienced players in field spots where they are less likely to get tagged by a hard line drive.

Having fun is key
The season is more about having fun and learning the game than simply winning baseball games. In fact, Tanzer had to refer to his notes in recalling the Mayhem’s 7-4 win/loss record. Margaretville competes in a five-team league that includes squads from Roxbury, Prattsville, Grand Gorge, and Conesville.

Tanzer used several players at pitcher including his son, Sam, Christina Westerfeld, Curtis Roberts, and Tanner Reither. Reither and Brandon Goodell did most of the catching. When she wasn’t on the mound, Westerfeld enjoyed the hot corner at third base and Roberts used his tall frame effectively around the bag at first. Dakota Rieder, who started the season working in the outfield, found time at first base toward the end of the month.

Around the field
Devon Amundsen, who recently relocated to North Carolina, played in both the infield and outfield. Returners to next year’s squad include Ian Stanton, Billy Miller, Justin Johnson, Ivan Hernandez, Casey Schultis, and Randy Oravetz who all worked learning outfield and infield play.

For the players on the Mayhem putting on their caps and wearing their Mayhem shirts is like taking another identity at Halloween, this time the persona of major leaguers like Robinson Cano, or Curtis Granderson or Bryce Harper. For Tanzer and Reither it is the expression on a youngster’s face when they get their first base hit or make their first catch in the field is the miracle that brings them back each July for more.