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The RoomPlace officials celebrate opening of Homewood store

Hundreds of players and coaches line the outfield 
at Ormsby Field on Saturday, April 16, for 
Homewood Baseball & Softball opening day 
ceremonies.

(Photos by Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

“Play ball!”

For 65 years, coaches and umpires have been calling players to the fields at Izaak Walton Preserve to play baseball through Homewood’s organized leagues. 

What started in 1951 as Homewood Little League today is Homewood Baseball & Softball (HBS). It’s an updated name, but still baseball: the game that binds the community together — players and families alike.

“It’s fabulous. I just love it. This is the field of dreams right here. A lot of people look at this park as that,” said 14-year volunteer Craig Mulling as he pitched in earlier this month to get the fields ready for play. “It’s definitely all about the community; the strength of the community.”
 

  Girls softball teams play 
  one of the early games 
  on opening day. 

This year, HBS has organized 83 teams. The 950 boys and girls officially opened the season April 16 with the traditional parade down Ridge Road to the three fields at Izaak Walton. They will play games there and at park fields throughout Homewood and Flossmoor from early afternoon into the night. The season stretches through June 30.

In July, HBS hosts All-Star play. The coaches give points for outstanding play to each player on a team. The top two players from each team will move on to All-Star play from boys teams are ages 7 through 15, and girls teams are ages 8 through 12.

Parents bring kids as young as 4 years old to HBS to play T-ball. Boys and girls play together for two innings of ball or 45 minutes, whichever comes first.

“It was always 45 minutes,” Becki Calomino says with a laugh,  “and the kids would ask ‘Did we win?’ and we’d make up ridiculous scores, like 37 to 94.” Calomino, who directed the T-ball league for six years, said it’s a great way to get little ones interested in the game.

HBS teams are organized by age. One of the rules is everyone gets to play. Kids are rotated through positions so each can learn how to handle the ball. Baseball for boys has five divisions serving kids 6 through 15. Softball for girls has four divisions for kids 7 through 18. HBS teams offer a more recreational game. As kids age, they can take their skills to Metro, a seasonal traveling league, or stay in recreational play. There also are year-round traveling teams for kids, although those are not connected with HBS.

Baseball teaches kids sportsmanship. It’s a learning experience that enhances camaraderie. Hundreds of boys and girls, from Homewood and surrounding communities bring their bats, balls and gloves to play the game.

By the time players are 9, 10 and 11 years old their desire and skills begin to stand out. Coaches move the kids between positions to stretch their talent and determine their abilities. They check on their intensity and sometimes they discover some real gems.

Some go all the way, like John Ely who started in Homewood little league, went on to play at Homewood-Flossmoor High School and Miami University of Ohio. He made it to the majors playing for several teams, including the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Kids will tell you they play baseball because it’s fun. Emma Murphy and Tacy Graham of Homewood play softball because they love having the experience of playing with friends.

Neil MacCormack, 11, who has been playing for seven years, recognizes the game as “bringing people together, and it helps me get experience. Plus, I love playing baseball.”

Today about 65 percent of HBS membership is from Homewood, said John Blasgen, an HBS commissioner for five years. Players such as Dominic Sharp, 11, of South Holland, come to HBS because it’s a well-organized league that can offer them the opportunity to improve their skills. 

HBS also draws regional attention for its Homewood Invitational Tournament (HIT) that brings together as many as 80 boys and girls teams in nine tournaments over three weeks in July, according to Steve Anderson, president of HBS.
Teams travel from throughout Chicago’s suburban area and Northwest Indiana to compete. 

HBS has support from 50 local sponsors, registration fees, tournament fees and concession stand sales to help underwrite costs, Anderson said.

Homewood Little League was founded by parents. Today it’s still the parents who are the backbone of the organization. 

“Parent volunteers make the league work. We are all volunteers on the board as well,” Anderson explained. “Parents coach teams, staff the concession stand, help clean the fields and some even umpire.

“I think what makes HBS special is a combination of the setting and the volunteer nature of the league.  Our volunteers take pride in ownership of the program and if we can, we want to leave it better than we found it.”

Ripken League organizer Mark Barry agreed: “It’s an opportunity to support the community and it’s something I enjoy doing and it’s for the kids.”

“It’s fun, it’s a blast. The people are great. Most of my friends in town are from baseball,” Blasgen added.


Note: This story first appeared in the April print edition of the Chronicle.

 

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