People who have been around high school baseball over the last twenty years will tell you that the problems facing the sport center around one element: travel baseball.
“It’s been watered down.”
“Too many dad’s coaching their kid.”
“Ten different teams for one town.”
The list goes on and on.
But, what is missed throughout these complaints are the people working with young adults who are teaching the game the right way. And they are doing it for one simple reason, to give these kids a chance at success. They are coaches who coach for the love of the game and to help others succeed.
Several years ago members of Sandlot Baseball, Inc created the I94 Conference centered in Chicago with teams focused specifically from the Midwest. All too often people only believe that talent comes from Florida, California, or Texas and these two men set out to prove that there are talented ballplayers coming from all across the country. Some recent draftee alums of the I94 include Ben Rortvedt (Twins), Corey Ray (Brewers), Gavin Lux (Dodgers), and Zach Burdi (White Sox) just to name a few.
Now a new opportunity to help young baseball players across the Midwest has sprung up and taken shape. The Skyscraper Conference has been formed and will begin a competitive season this fall. Teams from around the Chicagoland area will be competing at local tournaments and showcases. The goal is to get kids more opportunities to have their talent recognized by college coaches throughout the country and provide them the chance to keep playing the game they love. Most importantly it is being run by people who want to see these kids succeed. Therein lies the greatest difference that can be easily lost today.
The list of summer programs who have agreed to join the conference are as follows:
- Chicago Elite
- Chicago Mudcats
- Diamond Dawgz
- ESP Select
- Force Elite
- Illinois Indians
- Pirates Chicago
- Phenom Illinois
- Slammers Illinois
- Windy City
- White Sox Elite
When you talk to Tadd Gibson who runs ESP (Elite Sports Performance) out of Oswego, IL you hear the passion in his voice for working with kids who love to play baseball.
“It is all about exposure for these kids, not profit,” he says.
If you have been around youth baseball long enough you know that not everyone looks at travel baseball that same way. But, the Skyscraper Conference is filled with coaches who are spending their time helping young men hone and craft their skills. It is filled with coaches who have played at the highest levels and are putting in days to help current kids, ranging anywhere from nine years old to seventeen, get to those levels themselves.
“I had my professional career, I’m not looking to live vicariously through these kids as a coach now. I’m looking to help them get better.” Bobby Stevens runs Windy City Baseball on the north side of the city and has thirteen different teams at multiple ages he is working with.
“This is a great opportunity for these kids to get in front of local scouts and get them quality exposure,” he says. “At the same time we are keeping the cost down for these kids and their families which makes it easier for them as well.”
Solid competition, local exposure, college scouts, and low costs. It is a tremendous opportunity for any family trying to help their son keep their baseball career moving on to the next level.
When you speak to Jim Adduci who runs the White Sox Elite in Lisle, Illinois he puts if very succinctly, “developing players is my job.”
This is where the Skyscraper Conference distances itself from every other travel organization that exists, not just in the Midwest, but across the country. All over the U.S. there are kids hoping to make their high school team, eventually play in college, and then someday be part of the less than 1% who make it to the MLB. The coaches, directors, and founders working in the Skyscraper are making it their focus to give every kid, at every level, a chance to move on with their baseball career.
It is not just about playing the best players, but about developing the talent that comes out for these teams. As Jim Adduci said, “it is a great opportunity to play against equal or better competition, great chance to grow.”
It is through that growth and development that kids are able to take the next steps to get to the next level and continue their passion.
“Sometimes you need to get knocked down by a better team, it forces you to be resilient, forces you to work harder. You don’t get anywhere without that hard work,” says Tadd Gibson. And he’s right, no one simply falls into a college, let alone a professional athletic career. Each and every person who has played a sport has lost, and some have lost games at the championship level. That loss only creates one reaction, a desire to win, and to win and win and win. Athletes compete to win, there is no other reason, and as these coaches help these young men grow and develop further and further along they will learn how to deal with the losses. Because they will be strong enough to step back into the box after a bad at bat and deliver for their team at the next opportunity.
The mindset that started with the I-94 Conference has transitioned into the Skyscraper Conference and it is run by people who want to teach the game the right way. At the same time they are helping families keep costs lower by keeping tournaments and showcases local for the kids of the Midwest. Most take place Thursday through Sunday in Kenosha, Wisconsin at Carthage College, Nash Park, or University of Wisconsin - Parkside.
As Bobby Stevens said, “parents don’t need to take full weekends off, we are a long car ride away and they can be back home that night. It keeps travel costs low for parents and gets the kids in front of college scouts at the same time.”
At the same time when you speak to Commissioner Ben Suchon he echoes the value of the conference and its goals, but hints that opportunities to bring in talented teams to their events from around the country will not be passed up.
“Any time you get a chance to play at an event and see a team from another part of the country you see a new philosophy, new pitching, new ideas about the game. Those opportunities only make our kids better.”
It may sound like a broken record, but you hear the same tune and cannot help but tap your foot and feel the rhythm start to flow through you. It is the sound of people who want to help young ball players reach the absolute pinnacle of this ability.
Ben Suchon sums it up perfectly, “the goal is to work together to build baseball in the Midwest. And in turn get those kids to where they want to be. The purpose of this conference is to help kids get their needs fulfilled, whether that be college, the draft, or just simply improving as a ball player.”
There is not much more you can ask of an organization that works with young adults, athletes specifically, about their mission statement or goal. It is written in the work ethic of the men who developed and created the Skyscraper Conference and it is written for one purpose: to make kids better. It is simplistic, fundamental and to the point, much like baseball. There are no tricks, no dummy plays, no rope-a-dopes. Just baseball, pure crisp, fundamental, natural, beautiful baseball. Even in the occasionally snowy April day in the Midwest the ability to help talent grow will never change. And in that bedrock of altruistic determination you see the foundation of a league beginning to take shape, until one day it is tall enough to touch the clouds standing majestically in the skyline.