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Canyon Country Little League takes more competitive turn

Posted: July 16, 2013 8:56 p.m.
Updated: July 16, 2013 8:56 p.m.

Canyon Country Dodgers manger, Hugo Lopez, left, congratulates base-runner, Victor Ramirez after stealing home base on at Little League opening day at Canyon Country Little League Complex in 2009.

If you’ve ever flipped to ESPN during an afternoon in August, it’s likely you’ve come across the Little League World Series, held each year in Williamsport, Pa.

But how do those kids get there? Where do they get their start?

One such answer is Canyon Country Little League, the only Little League organization in the Santa Clarita Valley, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

“We like to pride ourselves on the only way to go to the Little League World Series every season (from the Santa Clarita Valley) is through Canyon Country Little League,” said President Rusty Rightmeyer.

Like its crosstown counterpart, the William S. Hart PONY League, CCLL offers an opportunity for youths to learn the game of baseball from a young age and prepare them to continue on in high school

But there are quite a few differences between the two programs.

While Hart plays under PONY rules, which are, with few exceptions, governed by Major League Baseball rules, CCLL plays under Little League rules designed to make the game a fun experience and increase participation for all.

“We hope we prepare them to play for a team and organized sports and get ready to pass them on to high school,” Rightmeyer said. “We try to get them to love the game and let the high schools turn them into Derek Jeter. Little League is there to make them love it and keep coming back.”

What makes CCLL even more unique is its use of stricter-than-required participation rules.

Little League rules dictate that all players on a roster must bat at least once and play at least six outs in the field in a game meaning, theocratically, a player could bat in the first inning and be benched after the second.

Canyon Country Little League has adopted stricter rules which require a lineup that consists of all players batting — meaning if a team has 12 players, than the lineup consists of 12 batters — and that no player can sit out for more than one inning consecutively.

During the postseason, however, which is a double-elimination tournament that all teams participate in, the league adopts the less restrictive Little League rules, according to Rightmeyer.

The downside to these rules, critics say, is it leaves the players less prepared for high school baseball — and Rightmeyer admits the program has lost kids in the 11-13 age group to the Hart league in the past for this very reason.

“Maybe, between 7 and 12, I think we have an advantage,” said Hart PONY President Arnie Durazo. “Because we do have those rules, but ultimately it’s up to the kid. He’s going to develop himself.

To that end, Little League recently adopted during the 2013 spring season an “intermediate” division, allowing kids aged 11 to 13 to play with Major League Baseball rules.

“Little League had rules to make the game slower and teach the kids the basics,” Rightmeyer said. “Now what they’ve done is implemented these Major League rules, which is for 11 through 13-year-olds and that new division utilizes Major League Baseball rules and it’s a much faster game.”

And that could help the kids be better prepared when they get to the high school level.

“There’s no question if you’re not doing some of those things, you’re going to be behind,” said Canyon High head baseball coach Adam Schulhofer. “There’s going to be a learning curve, where you’re on the field and using those skills. ... It’s a different game from what they remember. If these kids are going to be introduced sooner, we’ll see a difference.”

So far, the 2013 spring season was the first season with the intermediate division, and the program has been very popular, Rightmeyer said.

“One of the reasons we like it locally is we do lose kids in that age group, 10, 11, 12. They want to go to Hart for the PONY rules and so I imagine across the country that Little League is starting to realize that age group, they had to create an age group for that and keep them interested,” he said. “We’re hoping locally this new division will help us keep some of the kids.”

As for Hart, Durazo said his organization welcomes kids from Canyon Country if they decide they want to play at Hart, but that they would never actively recruit for kids and that he welcomes Canyon Country Little League’s adoption of the more competitive division.

“Absolutely, by all means. Whenever we can put a program together to develop the kids coming out of here, the pool in Santa Clarita is huge with kids. And if we’re developing kids playing good baseball, by all means,” he said. “I’d be happy to sit down with them and get something together. Ultimately, it’s for the kids. That’s the bottom line. Hart and Canyon Country doesn’t exist without them. If they’re developing kids to be better high school kids and eventually college and MLB players, by all means let’s get the programs together.”

Both organizations are currently accepting registration for the upcoming fall seasons in both baseball and softball.



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