PREP BASEBALL

Baseball doesn't stop when football begins

2013-07-31T18:30:00Z 2013-08-01T02:46:04Z Baseball doesn't stop when football beginsHillary Smith hillary.smith@nwi.com, (219) 933-3233 nwitimes.com

GARY | Chris Klenk scored the run that won his team a state championship.

It wasn't for Portage High School baseball, though there were other Portage players on the team.

In fact, during last fall while he was winning a wood bat league title, he was also involved in IHSAA tennis. Because his best sport is baseball, the one in which he hopes to earn a college scholarship, he wants to play as much as he could.

Enter the High School Fall Baseball League.

The league that started in 2008 in Lake County has spread to four states and a league championship over the last five seasons. More than 900 players have represented 160 different schools to play in the league.

"It's relaxing, there's no pressure with any of it and you get to see a lot of kids throughout the state," said Klenk, who will be a senior this fall at Portage. "It keeps me playing throughout the year."

The league plays over eight Sundays beginning as the school year starts. Wood bats are donated from Hoosier Bat Company so that each player is equipped.

Over the last five seasons the league, started by Diamond Kings founder Eric Blakeley, has found ways to improve it to keep players interested and playing. In the first year, when it was just a couple of teams in Lake County, he said that as teams would fall apart as players stopped coming.

"In the fall when things die down, there wasn't anything fun in the fall," Blakeley said. "(The first year) was pretty competitive. But here's why fall ball sometimes doesn't work: with travel now a days, people don't show up, they lose interest because they played all spring and summer, some leagues even use a machine. ... We added a tournament, we got colleges involved, we're power-ranking the teams, all of this has kept the league going. We scrapped the original league and changed our plans and made it bigger."

To keep players interested he added different components. A college is associated with the league in each of the 13 locations. For instance, Valparaiso University is associated with the Porter County league, so that when the college exposure day rolls around near the end of the season the teams play a day at VU. In Lake County, the teams are connected with St. Joseph's College.

Teams from Porter County have won the last two championships.

The high school coaches who volunteer time with the league said that the laid back atmosphere keeps it fun in the fall, and that it gives them a chance to see players coming in from eighth and ninth grades.

"It's only one game a week in a relaxed atmosphere, so if a kid wants to try a different position, he can," Portage coach Tim Pirowski said. "It keeps them sharp for the winter offseason. ... Being a site director, the benefit I get to see our younger guys, the incoming freshmen and JV players that are going to be varsity, I get to see them play more. Especially this past spring, we were playing most nights that the freshman and JV teams were playing, so I didn't get to see our guys. This allows me to see them play and I use it to evaluate a little bit."

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