When he considers the future of the Red Stick Collegiate League, Locke Wheeler envisions a growing number of teams, postseason playoffs to decide the league champion and even a league all-star team traveling to compete in regional and national tournaments following the regular season.
But Wheeler, who launched the league last year as a means for Louisiana-bred college players to sharpen their skills in the summer, wants to make sure it’s done the right way.
“We didn’t want to push growth too much,” Wheeler said. “We felt like we had a really strong league at the number of players we brought in last year, and we wanted to stay at that pace for another year and continue to grow as a league. We didn’t want to weaken ourselves by expanding too fast.”
Wheeler, the president of the Red Stick Amateur Baseball League for adults, added the college wood-bat league last year because he saw a need for it.
Many players from south Louisiana were coming home for the summer with no place to play. Some of them organized pickup games on their own before Wheeler stepped in.
“It was 10 times more successful than I thought it was going to be,” Wheeler said.
The second season of the league gets under way June 13 at Pete Goldsby Field following workouts and registration early this week. The format is the same. Four teams featuring about 15 players apiece will play 12-game schedules — two games a week for six weeks.
From the concession workers to the coaches, Wheeler said the commitment of volunteers is what makes the league go.
The league’s only funding comes from team sponsors Gerry Lane, Southern Recycling, 3S Hitting and Next Level Baseball Academy, a registration fee of $200 per player, advertising in free game programs, $5 admission for all games and concessions.
While he hopes to see the league grow, Wheeler said the mission statement won’t change.
Some college stars get invited to the prestigious Cape Cod League or other wood-bat summer leagues throughout the country.
But it’s a small percentage.
“The intention of this league is to give guys from South Louisiana a chance to play developmental-style baseball at home, whether it’s because they haven’t gotten the offer to go somewhere else and play, they need to stay home and take classes for summer school, or they need to stay home and take care of family things,” Wheeler said.
The league can also be a launching pad.
With one year of athletic eligibility remaining, Brent Blaum, who’d signed to play golf for LSU out of high school, approached Wheeler last year and asked about joining the league. Blaum was a two-sport star in high school who longed to give baseball one more shot.
Alcorn State noticed Blaum pitching for Wild Tiger Yoga and offered him a spot on the team. Blaum, a lefty, pitched the Braves to victory over Southern last month in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game.
“I shook hands with probably 20 different college coaches in that stadium last year who were just out there watching,” Wheeler said.
“Aside from a place to get work in, it gave a lot of guys an opportunity to network, meet coaches and play in front of coaches.”
Wheeler said players from about 20 different colleges have already signed up this year. Many of the players are from area schools like Baton Rouge Community College, LSU-Eunice and Louisiana-Lafayette, but some play as far away from home as California.
The purchase of a specialized computer software will provide live, Internet-based play-by-play from every game.
“We have guys calling and emailing daily from college programs wanting to get in this league, whereas last year we had to recruit really hard,” Wheeler said. “We’ve just got a lot of things going our way building off the success we had last year. Word is starting to spread.”
For more information on the Red Stick Collegiate League, visit www.collegiate.redstickbaseball.com.