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Waterford Babe Ruth, staying proactive, has new indoor gathering place

Waterford — It is bigger on symbolism than aesthetics, this rented area in a strip mall with a few batting cages and makeshift mounds, certainly not with the same amenities of other indoor baseball facilities here in our corner of the world.

But then, Waterford Babe Ruth baseball has never been about glitz. Nuts, bolts, meat, potatoes and championships. Heck, there's even the immortal line from Dave Laffey, one of the coaches who led a team to a World Series, who referred to a district championship plaque once as "more kindling."

Turns out that not even the numerous state titles, New England championships and trips to the World Series have been enough to keep all the kids playing for their town. The lure of AAU and travel teamsmirror the morning coffee in Waterford — drip, drip, drip — until suddenly the pot is full. Kids aren't leaving in hordes. But in case they get the wandering eye, league president Lucas Beaney decided to give Waterford baseball players a place to gather.

And so, this space in Waterford Commons, modest as it is, is of Waterford, by Waterford and for Waterford.

"It keeps Waterford kids playing in Waterford. It's a concern," Beaney said. "Travel has gotten bigger. We think it's important to keep Waterford kids playing together. We think it helps going forward chemistry wise playing in important games. In high school, they'll be playing together. This helps them with the experience of staying together at a younger age and play in big games together before they get there."

You will note that Beaney, an alum of the program, used the word "together" four times in the previous quote. This is an issue in Waterford and virtually every other outpost, too. Societal whims bend toward self-indulgence, making the notion of playing for your town and your school almost mocked now for their idealism.

But then, if you examine why Class M-sized Waterford High wins in most sports at levels belying its size, you draw a straight line back to the town baseball programs where loyalty and community trump all. It's almost amusing to watch the last out of a Babe Ruth game, where suddenly two dozen dads, many without kids in the program, start raking, lining and watering the field for no money. It's just what you do.

"A facility like this is important for our league," Beaney said, "because now our kids get the same things other places offer, like travel programs. Now they have their own facility and the tools they need and coaches they can work with. If they want to come in a ton, they can do that. Or if they play a winter sport and come here once in a while, that's fine, too."

It's not that Beaney is opposed to travel and AAU. His program has become a bit of a hybrid, playing travel ball during the regular season and then gathering for the Babe Ruth tournaments.

"We travel, too, but we do it mostly with all Waterford kids or kids who are eligible to play Waterford Babe Ruth," Beaney said. "AAU tournaments are competitive for the most part, but if you win or lose you just play in another one the next week. There's no meaning behind it. In order to play in the Babe Ruth New England Regional, you have to win the state title. In order to play in the World Series, you have to win the regional. It's not just pay to play."

The facility is rented through mid-March, open to Waterford Little League, Babe Ruth and high school players as well as all alumni. High marks here for Beaney trying to instill community in an emerging landscape of independent contractors.

"Now we have our own place," Beaney said. "Other places have other teams in them or people have the spaces rented. This is a place for all our kids who play in the program have a place to come whenever they want, or at least whenever we're open."

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro

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