By John Bassetti
Sponsors, bat type, tournaments and rosters — plus peanuts, popcorn and cracker jacks — are all components of the Class B League machine that operates pretty much around the clock at Cene Park in the summer for players 18-and-under.
As Class B League president, the bulk of the burden falls on Scott Ruark.
But even as he turns out the lights as the last man to leave the park, the baseball in his blood keeps flowing for the betterment of the league.
Games start Saturday, although Little b games for 16-and-under players got underway Monday.
Ten teams in two divisions compose both leagues.
The Astro Falcons team was both league champion and Connie Mack state tournament champ in 2011.
Its manager, Andy Timko, holds the distinction of managing back-to-back champions of different teams: Astros last year and 1080 Media in 2010.
“Most of the franchise holders stayed the same, but there are a lot of new sponsors,” Ruark said of changes since last summer.
1080 Media is now Bel-Park Pharmacy, Rondinelli Tuxedo has changed to Creekside Fitness, Dave Sugar Excavating is Toyota of Warren, Sam Pitzulo Homes has become Diamond 9 Development and Action Physical Therapy is now Kuboff and Associates.
Returning sponsors are Youngstown Express, Wharmby Sports and Roth Brothers and time-honored Livi Steel.
Diamond 9 is an indoor baseball facility that used to be the 84 Lumber building on Mahoning Ave.
Wooden bats are back for a fourth year.
“Players have adapted,” Ruark said of the acclimation since aluminum was discontinued. “It’s helping them get ready for the next step of college or wherever they’re going. It helps a lot.”
With aluminum, players used their own bats at no cost to the league, but, since the return of wood, the league provides $300 per team.
“You’re probably only getting three good bats for that [$300], so it’s like an allowance,” said Ruark.
Some players still use their own bats.
Although high schools and colleges now use BBcor bats — an aluminum version — the B league doesn’t plan to adopt them.
“They’re like swinging wood anyway,” Ruark said.
Although the Little B schedule is still 27 games, the 18-unders are playing 22 to accommodate postseason games and out-of-league competition.
“We took on two more tournaments this year,” Ruark said of a Palomino zone and NABF World Series, both 18U events at Cene.
That’s in addition to Diamond League challenge games between Youngstown and Cleveland-area talent and Triple Crown games against teams from all over.
“We rent out the fields to them and they run the whole tournament,” Ruark said of the Michigan-based Triple Crown organization that will stage the 52-team event for both 18-under and 16-under players.
“We’re making up all the [five fewer regular-season] games,” Ruark said. “It’s just different competition to see how we stack up.”
Returning for Astros are Boardman’s Dan Popio and Troy Parks and Warren JFK’s James Coates and Brendan Cox, both college-bound to Penn State and Mercyhurst, respectively. Popio was recently named Federal League player-of-the-year and Parks was a first-team selection.
The league’s website boasts a most-ever list of seven former players drafted by Major League Baseball last June.
“That’s the most drafted in one year,” Ruark said of Steve Gruver, Cavan Cohoes, Andrew Turocy, Todd Kibby, Boo Vazquez, Sutton Whiting and Eddie Rohan.
“Two elected to go to college,” he said of Vasquez (Pitt) and Whiting (Louisville).
Ruark said that Gruver (Austintown Fitch) is pitching for the Beloit (Wis.) Snappers (Minnesota Twins) and that Turocy, of Canfield, just got called up to Boston’s long-season A team in Greenville, N.C.
“I think it’ll be a real competitive year,” Ruark said. “We had that last year and I see the same thing this year. The biggest thing we have is our complex that’s state-of-the-art,” he said of Cene Park, which opened in 1995. “It speaks for itself.”
Admission is $3, with 20-game passes for $50.
“That’s $2.50 to get in,” said Ruark. “A very affordable, nice, cheap night to take the family out. We have a lot of people who do that.”