The Austin and Garfield Park Little League teams have joined forces this baseball season with hopes of being more competitive once Chicago games start April 28.
Merging the two community leagues will bring together more than 500 kids ¡ª and their parents ¡ª into one single squad. According to Frank Brim, president of the Garfield Park Little League, the new team is now one of the largest community organizations on the West Side.
This is the second year the Little League program has been offered in Austin. Last year, Austin’s league had 300 kids but only one baseball diamond in the community to practice on, according to Thomas Bowling, the league’s president.
“It was an adventure,” he said.
Last season, players couldn’t practice at Columbus Park because the fields were mainly used for soccer and were torn up from cleats. The park also has poor drainage, Bowling said, which is still in the process of being revamped. The league now has eight baseball diamonds the kids can share, as well as other resources, such as volunteers and indoor practice space.
The merger occurred late last fall 2011. Carlton Jones, who oversees Little League’s 12th District, which includes Austin and Garfield Park, said the merger was done two-fold: because of the lack of baseball diamonds in Austin but also to unite the communities.
“Before the merger, it was Austin guys and Garfield guys, and now it’s West Side ball,” Jones said.
Hundreds of West Side children, Jones said, are “being constructive playing baseball” and working together to make it to the Little League World Series.
“At night we’ve got access to fields with lights,” he added. “We have them playing instead of hanging out on the streets doing God knows what.”
But the kids won’t only be working on their batting averages. The league also offers mentoring, tutoring and ACT prep classes for its players at no extra cost, Brim said. Brim is also hopeful the merger will attract younger kids in the area to take up the sport.
“The West Side is a basketball community, but we’re trying to keep baseball alive,” he said.