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ELL Sandlot baseball’s simple pitch: Kids run the show

The youngsters show up, their brassy parents don’t get in the way and welcome to youth baseball, North County-style.

“We really wanted the kids to play baseball with as little adult interference as possible,” Mitch Gingrich said.

Gingrich, an Encinitas Little League board member, is presenting baseball with a twist. Those nuances include no cost to join and no stressed moms and dads grinding their teeth on every pitch.

Welcome to the ELL Sandlot Games.

“It gives kids that love baseball the chance to play baseball,” Gingrich said. “But the real benefit is that the kids are directing all the action. We line the field and put out the bases, but other than that, adults aren’t allowed on the field.”

The kids are not only all right, they are in charge.

They negotiate the teams’ roster, construct the lineup, umpire their own games and settle disputes among themselves.

Parents can attend, but only if their voices are on mute or ooze with positivity.

Shouting at the umpire?

Not allowed.

Constantly offering advice from the bleachers?

Put a sock in it.

Grousing that a coach doesn’t know what he’s doing?

Move on, you negative nincompoop.

“There’s no adult yelling that their Little Timmy deserves to pitch,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich got the ball rolling for players ages 8-10 in September. Show up, sign an insurance waiver and go get ’em was the mindset. Some kids were in uniforms, others in T-shirts.

Now those ballers, ages 11-12, have a chance to do the same every Tuesday in January.

The younger crew kicks off the two-hour games at 4:30 p.m., with the older ones claiming the field at 6:30 p.m.

An extra bonus is a boy or girl need not be a member of the ELL or even live in the city. All are invited, regardless of residency or economic standing.

Ted Haberfield, the ELL president, once did something similar for older players. When a volunteer like Haberfield is going into his sixth season running a league, his Rolodex is filled with numbers of those eager to informally pitch, catch and throw.

Gingrich, who has two younger sons in ELL, is a big factor in making this casual slice of baseball open to others.

“Mitch spearheaded this and deserves a lot of credit,” Haberfield said. “He’s our ambassador of Sandlot baseball.”

Gingrich was just leaning on his childhood in aiding others to enjoy theirs. As a tyke in Loma Linda, there were 20-plus kids living in a two-block area.

“We would have enough for teams in baseball, basketball or football,” Gingrich said.

But these days, structured play often eclipses those carefree afternoons where parents weren’t seen until the streetlights came on and it was time to race home for dinner.

In Sandlot, there’s a home plate but criticizing or complaining isn’t on the menu.

“This gives them a chance to play with other kids freely, without adults interfering and telling them what to do,” Gingrich said.

Gingrich tattles that other ELL board members, Sandy Jacks and Allison Magniafico, also deserve praise.

Haberfield, who managed last year’s ELL All-Stars to the state tournament, noted that his inbox is filled with emails of adults digging the Sandlot concept. In addition to learning baseball, life lessons are being applied, too.

“It gives them their own ability to garner their passion for the game rather than an adult or coach thinking through things for them,” Haberfield said. “It teaches them responsibility, maturity and gives them the freedom to just love the game without being told to do something by a coach.”

We know freedom isn’t free. But just maybe there’s an exception with the ELL Sandlot Games.

Play ball!

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] and follow him @jparis_sports.

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