GALVESTON — Beyond the box scores and record books that show what happened on the field, Major League Baseball’s history is laced with mergers, expansions, renaming and relocations. Today’s American and National leagues are what remains of what was once a handful of professional baseball leagues formed in late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Today, in Galveston, some city officials are raising the possibility that Galveston’s own baseball leagues could be in for their own merger.
At a recent City Council workshop meeting focused on planning the newly elected officials’ goals for the next two years, City Manager Brian Maxwell said the island’s two Little League programs might have to be combined to be viable.
“We need to get over ourselves,” Maxwell told the City Council while discussing possible parks projects. “League City has one league, and they’ve got a lot more kids than we do. We need to get over ourselves and get one good, solid Little League.”
Galveston’s two Little League Baseball programs — the West Isle Little League and the Island Little League — are run largely independent from the city. The leagues play on city property, but they maintain their own equipment and facilities and are responsible for funding their own operations. Those funds are raised largely on candy sales, donations and sponsorships.
Maxwell’s comments were centered around the possibility of turning a soon-to-acquired piece of property on Stewart Road into a Little League complex, a part of a greater plan to make the island more middle-class friendly.
The longtime president of the West Isle Little League, however, said the city has long talked about merging its two districts but nothing significant has happened. In the meantime, while the leagues have remained organizationally separate, they have worked together — particularly in situations where one league has to use the other’s fields.
“We share everything, we’re not going to turn them down,” said Geri Gillard. “That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s what it’s all about”
Gillard said a reporter’s questions were the first she had heard of any new talk about consolidation. She said after hearing about it, she called City Hall for clarification on the comments.
“I just feel that it should stay in that workshop,” Gillard said. “We don’t actually know what’s going to happen.”
Island Little League President Blanca Flores did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Reduced participation in Galveston would not necessarily be a surprise because Little League participation is shrinking nationally.
According to The Wall Street Journal, U.S. participation in Little League Baseball and softball leagues in 2012 was down 6.8 percent from rates in 2008. Decreases in participation also are evidenced by decreased sales in baseball equipment.
Locally, Little League officials said that drop in participation was amplified by the island’s loss of population following Hurricane Ike.
“Everybody had moved out,” Gillard said. “There were just kids that didn’t come back.”
Gillard estimated that about 185 players participated in the West Isle Little League this season. The league has five divisions — tee ball, machine pitch, player pitch, major league, junior league — which serve children from ages 5 to 14. She said she thought a slightly larger number participated in the Island Little League.
The dividing line for Little League in Galveston is 61st Street. A home address west of that street means playing for the West Isle league, an address to the east means playing in the Island league. Recent rule changes made it so some children who go to school at Oppe or Parker elementary schools but live east of 61st Street can play in the West Isle league, though only a handful of players made the switch from one league to another.
The West Isle Little League is dependent on the work of its volunteers, most of them parents. Gillard has served as the league’s president for 19 years, she said. Parents involved in the league said it was largely based on her efforts that the league still operated.
Earlier this week, at the Buccaneer baseball field on 81st Street, a group of parents watched as the West Isle League’s 9-year-old All-Star team prepared for its game against Bayside.
There’s nothing particularly noxious about a merger with the island league, they said. The groups already play each other in games and share facilities.
One parent, Natili Monsrud, said the West Isle League is obviously wanting for some things: Some parents are trying to band together and purchase better tools to help maintain their infields. If the Island League has those things, and a merger would help address those needs, she said, why not join together?
“If it will benefit the kids, than that’s the best thing to do,” Monsrud said.