Eric Blakeleys big idea wasnt awakened by a novelty crack of a bat. More like the slumber of baseball in the fall.
It seems like fall ball was something that was kind of an afterthought, says the founder of the High School Fall Baseball League, a five-year-old entity that debuts a new site Aug. 25 at Leo High School. It always seemed sort of ragtag, I guess.
Not after Blakeley got his mitts on it.
The genesis of the HSFBL, a network of wooden bat leagues (hence the crack) that stretches from Chicago to Dayton, happened in 2008.
Thats when Blakeley, a former Indiana University standout who did a little time in the Seattle Mariners organization, decided high school baseballs fall leagues needed a little ratcheting up. So he started a small league – four or five teams – based in Crown Point, which expanded to six or eight the next year and to a second league in Porter County the year after that.
Not good enough, Blakeley decided.
It was still one of those things where we didnt have a tournament, so it was kind of similar to what was already going on, he recalls. So we scrapped that, added an Indianapolis location and a Bloomington location – having played at IU, I really wanted one in Bloomington – and ended up shortening the regular season and adding a tournament.
And the HSFBL was off and running, finally. A partnership with Hoosier Bat Co. officially made it a wooden bat league. Eventually it would become a Sunday-only league consisting of a six-week regular season culminating with the HSFBL Championship Tourney and All-Star Exposure Games in Indianapolis on Oct. 13.
In addition, each league gets partnered with a college program, and during the regular season participates in a College Game Day at one of the colleges.
We kind of just added a bunch of stuff that makes it interesting, but kept it a Sunday league, Blakeley says. During spring and summer its every day, so in the fall guys want to play some competitive ball but its also a time to kind of back off a little bit. So it kind of gives a little bit of both. And its not a major commitment, so it doesnt interfere with participation in fall sports.
The Leo connection, meanwhile, happened because of Leo coach Dave Boyce. A district coach for the Crossroads Baseball Series, with which Blakeley is also involved, he broached the subject of a fall league based on the north side of Fort Wayne. And one thing led to another.
I thought it was a good opportunity for kids in our area as well as the kids in our school to play fall baseball that way, Boyce says. I think first of all the opportunity to play more games against a variety of different levels of competition is always a big plus, and then I think the wood bats is an added bonus.
It really makes kids become better fundamentally at swinging the bat. You really have to work on the mechanics of baseball in order to hit it well and have success with that.
When I played professionally, the first time I got a wooden bat in my hand it kind of brought me down a little bit, he says. It kind of makes you understand some of your flaws. So I think it brings you back to the game a little bit. You need to learn how to hit with a wood bat, because it teaches you a little something about your spring.
It gives the pitchers a little bit of an advantage, but it also teaches the hitters how to hit.