Let's play two: 'Baseball booming in Glenview' as traditional youth program splits
This here village apparently is big enough for the both of them.
Where for years there was one consolidated youth baseball program, this spring and summer Glenview fielded two -- Glenview Youth Baseball and Glenview Blaze Baseball.
They're both going strong.
For 20 years the single Glenview Youth Baseball program offered some 90 teams in its house league, 25 teams in its part-time Patriots program and five full-time Blaze travel teams.
Founded in 1999 by Jim McManus, who continues to be involved with the Blaze as vice president, and Paul Stevens -- Northwestern's baseball coach at the time, with two sons who played for the Blaze and later Northwestern -- it played its games at Community Park West, Flick and Crowley parks and several other Glenview Park District facilities.
But in July 2020, the principals of the Blaze, GYB's full-time travel team, sent a letter stating their intent to go their own way.
"We sought to separate from Glenview Youth Baseball because we wanted to provide opportunities for more players who wanted to play Blaze baseball the chance to do so," said Blaze President Steve Libman, whose teams play games on some of the same fields as GYB. Players also train at an indoor facility at 1880 Holste Road, Northbrook.
"Under Glenview Youth Baseball, we were limited in the number of teams we could have. As a result, key players were leaving Glenview to play in other programs, which we did not want to see happen. We wanted to give these players a chance to stay in Glenview and play elite travel baseball," Libman said.
Libman and Glenview Youth Baseball president Brad Niedermaier both stressed the "it's about the kids" mantra. Neither took potshots at each other or their programs, at least for this article.
"I think we respect them, hopefully they respect us, and hopefully we're both in the right place, that's all," said Niedermaier, a former right-handed pitcher who made it to the Triple-A level in both the Colorado Rockies and Minnesota Twins organizations.
"Everyone's trying to teach kids how to play baseball; it's just differences of opinion on how to do it," he said.
GYB is for players 4 to 17 years old, while the Blaze focuses on children 9 to 14. GYB also is playing a fall travel schedule at the 8U to 14U levels.
With the departure of the Blaze, this summer GYB added its own travel team, also called the Patriots, to maintain three levels of ball. Both Patriots and Blaze travel teams play in the Mid-Suburban Baseball League.
Before the split, the Patriots players also played in Glenview Youth Baseball's house league, while the travel-oriented Blaze players did not.
"For us it's all about community and bringing people together and supporting our sponsors, supporting our community," Niedermaier said.
The Blaze, though, sees its role to be developing players for high school and college. It's got a paid staff that, in several cases, brings professional experience. Some of the instructors include former area stars T.J. McManus, Mark Ori, Jack Yalowitz and one of Libman's ball-playing sons, Jordan.
Neither approach is wrong.
"We've found that there's a tremendous demand for players to play for the Blaze," Steve Libman said.
Each program had its successes this year in league and tournament play, like the Blaze's 12U squad that won a tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park in late July. GYB's 19th Jim Christ Memorial Tournament brought 96 teams to Community Park West, Crowley Park and Westbrook School.
GYB and the Blaze held tryouts for their 2022 teams, and both were happy with the results. The Blaze added a 9U team and overall "had a record number of players try out," Libman said.
The number of players trying out for GYB Patriots teams were up 25 percent. Numbers for the GYB house league have risen from around 800 to 1,000 over the last four years, Niedermaier said.
This year, the split within Glenview Youth Baseball appears to have benefitted both programs, and "the kids."
"We have more teams than we've ever had before and everything's going well," Niedermaier said. "Baseball is booming in Glenview."