By AJ MAZZOLINI
PENDLETON — Two facing rows of 13-year olds stretched across the baseball diamond into the outfield, becoming increasingly more crooked with every throw. Their numbers yield more than enough players for two full teams, yet the Pendleton Babe Ruth baseball players practice together.
One team, with one mission.
“It’s a controlled inter-squad scenario right now,” said Troy Jerome, head coach of the operation. “The idea is to create some excitement and good competition.”
The large portion of the season historically dedicated to in-town games comes with a twist in 2012. The kids will split down the middle and play each other, only the battle lines are redrawn before each contest. Based on purely numbers, few would be happy with just two teams playing each other a dozen times in a row and the constant shuffling will insure that one team is never bounds above the other.
The teams will also play a few games with out-of-town opponents, matching up with teams from Hermiston and Stanfield.
The academy games will play out on a diamond structured beyond the outfield fences at Bob White Field. Reproportioned during the offseason, the 70-foot base paths present a stepping stone between Little League fields and the 90-foot paths of Bob White where the 14- and 15-year olds dwell.
It’s a new idea for Pendleton, Jerome said, and so far the responses have come back generally positive.
“I think it’s better. It gives us kids more chance to get the fundamentals down,” 13-year old Devin Hasher said. “It’ll actually prepare us for bigger fields so it won’t be such a huge jump.”
That’s one of the goals anyway, but some Babe Ruth boys enjoy the setup for far more basic reasons.
“I honestly like it because all my friends can be on the same team together,” Caleb Cary said.
Right now the team is still in the drills portion of spring practice. With more than two dozen players all together — and more tricking in with enrollment open throughout the season — Jerome said he tries to run daily practice more like a baseball camp. Some exercises are all experiened together; sometimes the team splits in half to work on certain aspects with different assistant coaches.
Morale is high a week before the first set of games and Jerome hopes it stays there throughout the season. Only then can the Pendleton Baseball Academy be sure its newest form is accomplishing the real goal: increasing its player turnout and maintaining baseball opportunities for all young fans.