After 30 years, Marty's T-Ball has fun down to a 'T'

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NORTH ADAMS — On a recent Monday night at Alcombright Athletic Complex, baseball and softball players occupied fields flanking Protection Avenue. But most of the activity could be found beyond the outfield fences.

Behind a softball field, children were rounding bases and fielding balls as coaches directed from spots around diamonds labeled "Fenway Park" and "Yankee Stadium." Parents and other spectators looked on and chatted with one another in what would be Little League fly ball territory. And a nearby snack stand offered a respite for players and fans alike.

It was another night of Marty's T-Ball, a noncompetitive spring league that has taught baseball fundamentals to players aged 5-7 for 30 years. More than 50 players signed up for the 2018 season, which began at the end of April and will run through Saturday, June 9, when 6-and-7-year-olds will receive medallions and Caleb Jacobbe Awards, respectively. It's one of the only T-Ball options in the area.

"It's a great community league," league organizer Ryley Gaudreau said. "It gets kids out playing — almost to a 'T' people are thrilled and happy when the season is done. Their kids always tend to like it."

Gaudreau's father, John, started the league in 1989 as a means to honor his then-wife, Martha "Marty" Gaudreau. She was involved with early childhood education before sickness pulled her away from her work.

"The legacy thing is important to me, as well. My dad started this for my mom, so to be able to carry this on with Jim and others that help us out, I think, is kind of cool," Ryley Gaudreau said of his late parents' impact on his current league involvement.

In the league's early days, games were played across the street. Organizers had to clear tire rims and other debris from the field.

"At that point, this was a vacant lot. None of this was here," recalled organizer Jim Lipa from the league's new site.

Eventually, through donations and volunteer work, Marty's T-Ball moved into its new home. Over the years, the league has typically drawn between 72 and 90 players.

"That's our smallest league we've had in years," Lipa said of this season's turnout.

Registration began in February. The price tag this year was $35 per player or $40 for two players.

"We're pretty much giving it away. We run it at a loss," Lipa said.

Still, if families can't afford that cost, they can make arrangements with the organizers to pay less, Lipa and Gaudreau said.

This season brought no shortage of volunteer coaches, who ensure that every player bats in an inning and that participants rotate positions on the field. (In T-Ball, the abundance of nubbers — weakly hit ground balls — make pitcher and first base the most coveted spots.)

"Patience is a good thing to have," Gaudreau said of coaching.

Scores are never kept during the (typically) three-inning games — and there are no strikes or outs — but they are precursors to the contests that do. Lipa said teaching basics, such as running to first base or holding a bat, are essential to building the next generation of baseball players. But coaches are also careful not to overload their players with information.

"There's only a certain amount you can teach kids at this age," Lipa said.

The organizer was proud of the three North Adams SteepleCats who began their baseball careers in Marty's T-Ball. He's also happy to see former players returning as coaches, such as Ian Downey. His children, 7-year-old Colten and 4-year-old Landry, also participate in the league. Downey, who coaches girls basketball at Drury High School, said Marty's T-Ball was the "first thing" that taught him the concept of being a part of a team.

Ultimately, a coach's responsibility is to create a safe, fun atmosphere for children to play. A sense of humor can help foster that environment.

After yet another errant toss in one game, this reporter turned to Gaudreau and asked how many outs are recorded during a season.

"In a season," he said, shrugging, "maybe three."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at bcassidy@berkshireeagle.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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