From its inception, the Babe Ruth Baseball program has emphasized a balance of fun, learning and competition.
“We have a pretty laid-back, positive culture in Babe Ruth,” said Jim Hansen, the long-time Lincoln Pius X baseball coach who now runs the organization along with founder Bill Fagler. “People enjoy our league. I think the best comment I ever heard was from a player. We had just played our final game of the season and one kid came up to me and said, ‘I wish we had one more game.’ That means he’s not tired of the game and wants one more game. You do that, and you’ve had a pretty good run.”
Fagler, a former Lincoln Northeast and Nebraska Wesleyan coach, set about in the fall of 1982 to create a way to build interest in baseball and teach fundamentals, and the Babe Ruth program began in the summer of 1983.
“It was just a daytime program then. Now it’s evenings and all day Saturday,” said Fagler. “We wanted it to be five days a week, either playing a game or practicing, because the way you get better is through repetition.
“And we wanted to keep the weekend open for families to be families. We wanted to find people who would invest in the kids as far as teaching the fundamentals, having fun and being competitive.”
The program peaked at around 1,200 kids and stayed at that level for many years before the numbers began to dwindle. The program didn’t operate for one year until Hansen reinvigorated it in 2007. There are two divisions. The Cal Ripken League consists of players in sixth, seventh and eighth grades. They play three games a week over a 10-week season, which concludes with a season-ending tournament the last week of July. Those games, on Saturdays, are played at Sawyer Snell Fields. The Babe Ruth League is for third, fourth and fifth graders. They play the same number of games, except not on Saturdays and have a season-ending tourney, all at Densmore Fields.
“We play by baseball rules. In Babe Ruth, we don’t have pickoffs or balks, and you have to wait for the ball to cross the plate before moving on the base paths,” said Hansen. “The city has been great to work with in providing fields. This year, we have the most number of teams since we started again. There are eight teams in the Cal Ripken League and 10 in the Babe Ruth League, each with 12 or 13 players. We accept full teams, partial teams and individuals, and try to match them geographically as much as possible.”
Players in the league are encouraged to play all positions and to pitch. Hansen said he tells coaches to let the kids make mistakes, learn from that and end up with a higher baseball IQ.
“Summertime is supposed to be a time for everything – to go fishing, ride your bike, be with your family, and if you can play baseball, great,” Hansen said. “In 2003, I had three sons, all two years apart. This league came to mind because all the games are in Lincoln. We have some coaches who coach in both leagues.
“We have a great staff that helps out. Bill and I are kind of the commissioners. Brooks Rushman and Joe Oliva are our field supervisors, and they do a phenomenal job.”