On a sizzling Saturday in June the Orioles clinched a Little League game at Stoepel Park in Detroit with an 11 to 8 score against the Royals. All 28 players slapped hands and congratulated one another in the last game of the Rosedale-Grandmont Baseball League season.
A mixed league of boys and girls six to eight years old play like Comerica Park athletes, eager to score a win and capture hugs from their adoring families who wait under trees and sun umbrellas.
“We’ve got 380 kids involved in our Little League, from three years old to 16 years old playing everything from Tee-ball to senior baseball,” says a proud Ken Schneider, a Rosedale Park resident and coordinator of the league and one of the stalwarts involved since its inception in 1991. “We’re the only sanctioned Little League affiliate in Detroit.”
It all started when Schneider and his wife, Mary Schneider were looking for a Tee-ball league for their four-year-old son. The couple took turns driving him to Livonia to find a good game. Over a barbecue with other neighbors all eager to develop a sports program for their children, they founded a league of their own.
This chapter came under the auspices of the Grandmont-Rosedale Development Corp. and the five neighborhoods that make up Grandmont-Rosedale. The neighborhood is known as a powerhouse citywide for bringing people together for community events and rehabbing frail houses and returning them to fair market value.
Within weeks the Schneiders had 300 kids on the roster all eager to play ball. Steve Spencer, who had a kid on team, joined the league in 1993 as an umpire and helped recruit other umpires to keep the game fair.
“People enjoy baseball so much we’ve never had an incident, not fights between parents and umpires or anything else,” Spencer says.
Eddie Hejka, who also had baseball age kids, joined up as a coach and continues in that volunteer role. Hundreds of others stepped up to the plate to help.
Heijka and all the coaches all wear shirts adorned with Number 42, honoring Brooklyn Dodgers greatest athlete, Jackie Robinson. The kids play six innings, reveling in each play.
Participants pay $50 to $100 for a uniform, umpire fees, Little League insurance and charter fees. It’s still cheaper than travel teams, which involve bus trips, hotel lodging and many other expenses.
The ball fields were a whole lot more rudimentary when the Little League began in 1991 in a field behind the Rosedale Community House.
Today they play at Stoepel Park, where four baseball distinct diamonds glisten in the sunshine. Each has a new surface, fixed bases, concrete dugouts and chain link fences surrounding them. These fences keep out four wheelers that ran through the park carving deep ruts in the playing surface and assure the balls don’t fly into other activities.
A placard at the entrance to the park speaks to the efforts that culminated last year with the four new diamonds, playscapes, a perimeter track, seven dugouts and more. Wayne County, the Ford UAW organization, the Detroit Tigers Foundation, On Target Contracting, Meijers, Lowes and Detroit LISC gave generously to reviving the park.
“We’re proud to support the Rosedale Grandmont Little League and the big league dreams of all its young ballplayers,” says Jordan Field, director of the Detroit Tigers Foundation, an affiliate of Ilitch Charities.
The Tigers underwrite the cost of the Little League tournament with a $50,000 grant to the Youth Development Commission, and secured a $10,000 grant to prepare the field out of its Baseball Tomorrow Fund. The group donates Tigers tickets to participating teams and recognizes the winning teams during an on-field, pre-game ceremony at Comerica Park.
The dugouts, adorned with colorful mosaic murals, were part of a $23,000 online fundraising campaign with $13,000 from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. Celebrated artist Hubert Massey recruited dozens of volunteers to help prepare the surface and place the murals on the exteriors of seven dugouts.
Detroit’s Little League is a stellar example of community engagement, fundraising and timeless fun brimming with life lessons that are helping these youngsters get a toehold on life. Kids learn teamwork, leadership, sportsmanship and community involvement as well as how to win well and lose well. That will make help make them solid citizens.
“Everybody loves baseball. Kids can bicycle here. They don’t need to get on a bus or get a car ride. Most kids hail from the neighborhood,” says Hejka. “Even if kids lose a game they have something to do. When baseball season ends, soccer begins. We get kids involved in having fun.”
“We’ve had numerous kids win scholarships to colleges. Some kids grow up and buy houses in the neighborhood. Parents get to know one another. This is baseball, it brings people together.”