Starting anew

Youth baseball in Montrose takes on a fresh look

WILLIAM WOODY/Special to the Daily Sentinel Six-year-old Micah Nichols readies his swing while attending a Montrose youth baseball and softball program hitting clinic at the Sunset Mesa Sports Complex on April 6. The clinic was conducted under the direction of the Montrose High School baseball team

WILLIAM WOODY/Special to The Daily Sentinel Montrose High School baseball coach Landon Wareham gives young players a little hitting instruction during a recent Montrose youth baseball and softball program clinic.

WILLIAM WOODY/Special to The Daily Sentinel Montrose High School players help youngsters through drills at the recent Montrose youth baseball and softball program hitting clinic.

Little League may be a memory in Montrose, but the city’s youth still have a home on the diamond.

A reshaped, revitalized youth baseball and softball program will debut later this spring, a program that emerged after the city canceled its lease with Montrose Little League in early February.

The city, the Montrose Indians Baseball Association and the Montrose Recreation District are teaming up on the new venture, which provides recreational and competitive league options for children 4 and up.

In a variety of ways, Little League simply didn’t meet Montrose’s youth baseball and softball needs. Internal strife on the board also contributed to its downfall.

“They had a bunch of inner issues going on and they actually wanted out of their lease,” said Landon Wareham, the head baseball coach at Montrose High School and founder of Montrose Indians Baseball, an association for players 13 and up.

“They came to me a year ago and asked how the city can help,” Montrose City Manager Bill Bell said. “That’s what we did.”

The new format paves the way to play teams from neighboring towns without a Little League charter.

“I think the biggest piece that people are missing that, with this program, we’re opening up gates to play all the communities surrounding us,” said Heather Boone, a member of the new program’s advisory committee whose family moved to the area from San Diego in 2005. “With Little League, we were only playing towns if they were chartered through Little League.”

Games against teams from Hotchkiss, Delta, Paonia, Cedaredge, Olathe, Telluride and North Fork (Nucla/Norwood/Naturita) are now possible.

“This is really just putting the foundation together for all the kids,” said Boone said. “The ultimate goal, in the end, is to get more communities involved.”

A handful of former Little League board members — Boone included — sit on the new program’s advisory committee, which also features Wareham, who played baseball at Olathe High School and Mesa State College before spending some time in the Baltimore Orioles’ minor-league system.

Introducing youngsters to the fundamentals Wareham employs with his high school program is what the fifth-year Montrose High School coach most appreciates about the new partnership, of which coaching and player clinics will be a staple.

“We just want to get everybody on the same page fundamental wise,” he said. “In a community like Montrose, there’s no reason you can’t have all the kids going through the same program from the minute they start T-ball to when they get to high school. That’s the plan. That’s the goal, being able to improve the product being offered with the help of the city and the rec department.”

A later start to the season — practices officially begin the week of April 29 and opening day is May 11 — will keep youngsters from having to choose between soccer and baseball.

“The Little League schedule had to match all the other Little Leagues around and they start in early April,” Bell said. “Soccer players can’t play both. You have 6- and 7-year-olds who are having to choose between soccer and baseball. We think that’s way too early to have to choose.”

Renovations and improvements at Sunset Mesa Sports Complex is another component of Montrose’s youth baseball and softball facelift, which officials hope will lure more tournaments to the city.

“We’re working together, fixing up the fields a little bit,” Bell said. “We want to make sure the everything is top-notch. … There is collaboration between all the entities, all going in the same direction, so more people in the community are able to use the Sunset Mesa Complex.”

Ray Laird, the advisory board’s liaison for field maintenance, has been working closely with city staff to gussy up the Sunset Mesa complex.

New clay for the infield, backstops and fencing improvements and a concession stand overhaul are among the renovations.

“We’ve gone and cleaned up a bunch of old materials,” Laird said. “We’re all working really close together. Everybody’s on the same page. It’s about what’s best for the kids and what’s best for the program.”

“This has all come together really well and is truly all about the kids, about making it a safe, fun place to play and learn baseball in a good environment,” Boone said. “We have good perspective from many different points of view. That helps to make things work for everybody. That way, all ages, all perspectives, all concerns and issues are represented.”


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