Baseball league offers players a gateway to success

By Andrea Ray | Aug 11, 2017
Courtesy of: Gateway Babe Ruth The members of Gateway Babe Ruth's 15U all-star team, who won the Babe Ruth State Championship this year.

Gateway Babe Ruth might be “just” a town league, but when it comes to learning how to play baseball like a pro, Mike Messina is sure there’s no better place to get an education.

Messina took over Gateway Babe Ruth 10 years ago, “when the league was struggling.” There were only five teams in the charter, which is based in Wareham and also draws players from Marion, Mattapoisett, Rochester and Onset. Those involved with Gateway Babe Ruth decided that the best bet would be to incorporate other Babe Ruth charters (many of whom were facing the same lack of players) into an area league.

Even as a combined league, the Gateway League was facing a loss of players to Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) teams. These teams cost a pretty penny for players to join — Messina estimated the costs as well into the thousands — but also have the dime to travel to large tournaments and attract scouting attention. However, they often don’t allow players to play for a town league (like Gateway Babe Ruth) or even a school team.

They’re good, there’s no doubt about it. But Messina knows you don’t have to pay all that money to get the same educational quality.

“People who want their kids to play college ball often pick AAU,” he explained. “But we’ve had a lot of kids from our league play college ball, and they learned at a family-friendly price.” Gateway Babe Ruth, he noted, charges only enough to cover their costs, but nothing extra.

Plus, Gateway Babe Ruth games are scheduled around school team games. They’re scheduled around just about everything; holidays, graduations, and other key days are all worked around, to make sure all players have a chance to learn as much as they can.

The result is that the league of today looks much different than the struggling combined league of ten years ago. Today, there are 37 teams, who belong to charters from Fairhaven to Dennis and Martha’s Vineyard. 18 of the 37 teams belong to Wareham’s Gateway Babe Ruth, the town charter. In addition, there are junior and senior Legion teams.

“Team Gateway” is a new endeavor in the overall league. Team Gateway is an AAU club, meant for players aged 9-14, but with fewer of the general costs associated with AAU. Messina noted that the goal is to bring players up through the league into the Babe Ruth and Little League divisions, rather than have them come into the league later.

As the 9-14 AAU club also accepts players from any charter within the overall league, players from New Bedford, Dartmouth and even towns on the Cape are popping up on Wareham’s fields. The charter offers a summer league, fall season, winter and spring training, and summer baseball camps.

These days, Messina said, the Wareham charter is split roughly 50-50 between players from Wareham and Onset and players from the tri-town. “At first the charter was dominated by Wareham and Onset players, because the tri-town players were going elsewhere,” he explained. “That’s changing now that they’re seeing the charter and the league improve.”

A sizable number of tri-town players contributed to the team’s 15-and-under all stars, who recently won the regional and state Babe Ruth championships. Of the 13 players on the team, 9 were from the tri-town. One, Chris Labelle of Mattapoisett, explained why he chose in the Gateway Babe Ruth charter after several years of Little League.

“This is my third year in the league,” he said. He currently plays for the Old Rochester Regional baseball team (where, at 15, he is a starting outfielder) as well as for the Wareham Tigers. “Gateway’s program seemed like a really good one, so that’s where my friends and I went,” he added.

He noted that the coaching talent in Gateway Babe Ruth is something exceptional. Coaches in the AAU are paid, according to Messina, while the coaches in the Wareham charter and overall Gateway league aren’t paid, choosing to volunteer their time. “They believe in what we’re doing and they want to help,” Messina said.

“I’ve had some excellent coaches,” Labelle agreed. “I’m not sure that the coaches would be as good anywhere else.”

To learn more about Gateway Babe Ruth, visit www.gatewaybaberuth.com or the charter’s Facebook page, listed under “Gateway Babe Ruth.”

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