A recently formed nonprofit organization wants to bring youth baseball back to Peoria's neighborhoods.
The Peoria Baseball Association started last year with the intention of removing barriers and improving access to the sport all across the city.
“Basically, what we’re looking at is most of the District 150 kids here in Peoria don't have access to any sort of baseball,” said PBA secretary Joe Rusch. “You have a baseball desert, especially on the East Bluff and South Side. So what we really want to do is we want to help those neighborhoods rebuild the Little League programs that they used to have.”
The PBA plans to hold free baseball camps and clinics around Peoria this summer for players age 6 to 16, in hopes of sparking more interest in the sport. Rusch said an ongoing online fundraiser will help purchase the necessary equipment to make those camps and clinics possible.
“We're talking about bringing baseball back into an area of our city that has really, for whatever reason, been shut out. They don't have access to it and the culture is not there,” said Rusch. “We're really trying to inject something into the culture that doesn’t have baseball right now, and so we really need all hands on deck from the Peoria community.
“Through this, we're hoping to kind of spark interest in the sport again in those areas that haven't had access to it in years.”
Co-founded by longtime coaches Ryan Kenny and Mike Olson, the PBA offers annual memberships for $10 in addition to the fundraiser. With 10 days left in the drive, the group has raised more than $1,600 toward its $5,000 goal.
“All of the funds that we raise are going directly to getting these kids' bats, balls, gloves, cleats,” said Rusch. “Most of these kids have not picked up a baseball. So we're starting from ground zero with this, and we need equipment and things to put on these camps and clinics, especially if we’re doing them at multiple locations.”
Rusch said the PBA's long-term goals include establishing an open-air museum to Peoria's rich baseball history that dates back to the early 20th century, and restoring Old Woodruff Park.
“That is where all baseball history in Peoria stems from. Roger Maris played there (and) Tony Lazzerri, Hall of Famer for the Yankees, played there for the Peoria Tractors,” said Rusch, noting the group hasn’t yet reached out to the city or the park district about plans for Woodruff Park. “All the way up through the ’70s, that was the home for baseball in Peoria. There’s such a rich history of baseball here and we want to recognize that.”
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