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Youth baseball: WAYBA is still going strong

WORTHINGTON — As the summer of 2014 begins its descent into fall, the Worthington Area Youth Baseball Association has plenty to celebrate.

This weekend, much of that attention is on the WAYBA 11-year-old team. After going 26-8 during the regular season and taking second at its qualifying tournament last weekend, WAYBA begins play at the state tournament today (Friday, July 25) in Mankato. The squad of 11-year-olds took third in a league comprised kids aged 11 and 12 along with taking first at tournaments in Brandon and Worthington.

“A lot of these kids are very dedicated,” said Dan Bruns, a co-coach for the 11-year-old team and member of the WAYBA board of directors. “They put in a lot of time and effort here at practice and at home with their parents just playing catch in the back yard and things like that. They’re a really easy group to coach.”

WAYBA opens the state tournament in a three-team pool with a 4 p.m. game today against Glencoe-Silver Lake in Mankato. Pool play wraps up Saturday morning against Richfield with the top two teams in each pool advancing into bracket play.

Bruns said on Wednesday that his team was pretty excited for its chance to perform at state.

“We have a lot of kids that have older brothers that play baseball,” he said. “A lot of them have been to state and these kids have seen them play. It’s really exciting for them and they’re ready to go.”

As is the case with all of the WAYBA teams — age 8 through Legion — Bruns said coaching the 11-year-olds is hardly a one-man job. Brian Iverson and Troy VanOrman join him as volunteer co-coaches. He said each age level has three or four dads who “pump in a ton of time” to help out their kids’ team and the WAYBA program in general. He added that having a few different guys in the dugout as coaches helps the kids as they learn the game because it opens up room for different viewpoints when instructing.

“There are so many great people who are willing to put in a ton of time just for their kids and baseball in Worthington,” Bruns said.

Not all of the success of the program has been on the field this summer. With the help of WAYBA’s grant writer, Beth VanOrman, the non-profit organization has been able to secure grant money from Sanford Health Care, the Minnesota Twins and other businesses around town. Those funds have helped in making improvements at the college fields with plans to upgrade equipment hopefully in the near future, according to Bruns.

Making upgrades in facilities and equipment was an emphasis for WAYBA coming into 2014. The organization has been around for more than 20 years but Bruns said this is the first time he can remember trying to secure money through grants. As a non-profit group, he said funds can be tough to come by at times, but with participation going up across the program, the upgrades in equipment will help with player safety while he hopes facility improvements will help the community as a whole.

“This isn’t just a baseball thing; it’s a town thing,” Bruns said. “We want to help the town and we hope that when people come to Worthington for a tournament or a game, they’ll think of it as a good experience.”

Teams in the WAYBA organization — with the exception of the VFW and Legion teams — play in what they refer to as the “I-90 League” alongside teams from Adrian, Pipestone and Luverne to name a few. Kids age 9 and up travel for their games, playing two games per week along with 4-6 tournaments per summer. The 8-year-old team plays coach-pitched games, some of which are against squads from neighboring towns.

Though Bruns’ 11-year-old squad has seen plenty of success on the diamond this summer — and hopes to see a little more this weekend — the true satisfaction comes from seeing kids enjoy the game. That is, after all, the point of the program.

“When it comes down to it, it’s really all about the kids having fun,” Bruns said. “It’s about hanging out with their buddies on a nice summer night. It’s about getting out and playing ball and stopping to eat or going over to someone’s house after the game. They have a lot of fun.”

Zach Hacker

Zach is the Daily Globe sports reporter. He has previously been a sports editor at both the Waseca County News in Waseca, Minn., and The Emporia Gazette in Emporia, Kansas. He is originally from New Richland, Minn., and now lives in Worthington with his dog; a beagle-corgi mix named Homer. In his spare time he enjoys spending time with family and friends, pontooning on St. Olaf Lake and watching professional and collegiate sports.

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