Little League

Little Leagues across the East Valley and Scottsdale are gearing up for a new season after the coronavirus pandemic forced them to cancel last spring.

The start of the coronavirus pandemic last spring resulted in the stoppage of sports across the world. From the professional level down to various youth leagues, sports were put on hold as the United States and the world faced the new virus head on. 

Several Little Leagues across the East Valley and Scottsdale held out hope into April and May for a shortened season to take place. But as the pandemic only worsened, and schools remained shuttered, so did the leagues. 

Now nearly a year later, leagues are once again ramping up in preparation of a season. In Scottsdale, Rene Salazar is hoping to show parents of young players that Little League is more than just a chance for kids to play baseball.  

“Little League uses baseball to get to where you want to be in life,” Salazar said. “We want to emphasize all the great things about Little League and all it provides.”

Salazar has been involved with Little League in Scottsdale for nearly two decades. He served as a volunteer coach and president of Mountain View Little League and now serves as the District 6 Administrator, overseeing one of the largest Little League districts in the state. 

Both of his sons played Little League baseball and went on to higher levels of baseball before pursuing careers in various fields. 

His oldest son, Michael was part of the Mountain View Little League All-Star team that played in and won the Junior League World Series in 2009 for 13 and 14-year-old players. The team defeated Aruba 9-1 and finished 5-0 overall in the tournament. 

Even after winning world championship for his age group, Salazar said that isn’t the key memory Michael has from his time in youth baseball. 

While Little League presents an opportunity for kids to stay active and play a sport they love, Salazar believes it teaches them key lessons to succeed in life. It also allows them to build friendships with teammates, some of which may last a lifetime. 

“When I ask my sons what they remember the most about Little League, they don’t tell me their ERA or batting average, they don’t care about that,” Salazar said. “They tell me about the time they were out to eat with their teammates. Or at a practice or staying in the hotel during the World Series. It’s those friendships they cherish and remember the most.”

Salazar cherished his time coaching his two sons and other kids with Mountain View Little League. He enjoyed teaching them how to be accountable and to build a strong work ethic – two attributes he believes helped them later in life. 

Now, he wants to remind parents and young athletes about those same life lessons that can be learned playing Little League regardless of skill level. 

“The challenge we’ve had is that the dynamics of Little League have changed due to parents with kids that play baseball think they will be a D1 athlete,” Salazar said. “But statistics show the number of kids who go on to play college and pro baseball have stayed the same. But club ball continues to grow.

“I don’t want to see participation in Little League continue to decline.”

The club sports scene in Arizona and across the country has grown to new heights as of late. Especially with the pandemic forcing leagues like Little League and the Arizona Interscholastic Association to be canceled or delayed, more athletes are leaning upon club teams to pursue game film to send for colleges. 

Several high-level athletes at the high school level left AIA schools all across the East Valley and Scottsdale to compete at the club level in basketball. When the AIA canceled spring sports last season, athletes flocked to their club baseball teams which continued to play through the summer, when Arizona saw its first peak of cases. 

All the tribulations at the high school level have trickled down to the youth level, Salazar said, with parents electing to pursue club ball rather than Little League. Salazar added that often comes with higher cost to compete and in his own experience with his sons, a coaching experience that emphasizes improved stat lines rather than basic fundamentals. 

That’s why he is encouraging parents to not look past all Little League has to offer, especially after a year in which young athletes had so much taken away. 

“Little League doesn’t just cater to the 10 percent that will go on to play at the college level,” Salazar said, “we cater to the 90 percent. Those kids that may not make it to that level. We give them an opportunity to have fun and play.

“Little league is for everybody. Whether you have never played before or you’re the best on the team, we have a spot for you.”

Registration for one of Scottsdale’s Little Leagues is now open. Salazar said teams will begin forming in February with practices and games tentatively scheduled to begin sometime in March. There are currently seven leagues in the Scottsdale area, servicing over 3,300 youth athletes. 

Salazar encouraged parents to visit the official Little League International website to find the closest league to them. Visit www.littleleague.org/leaguefinder.