AnJo Baseball’s 59th season opens for business
Saturday July 19, 2014 | By:Nick Sabato, Sports Reporter | Sports
While many little league baseball seasons are wrapping up around Niagara County, there is one league that is about to kick off its season.
AnJo Baseball has begun its 59th season servicing Lockport and the surrounding communities.
The league was started in 1955 as a joint venture between the now-defunct St. Anthony’s and St. Joseph’s churches as a way to provide the Lockport youth with an activity to do in the spring and summer.
Now, AnJo has blossomed into a league with 10 fields, six Bombers travel teams and is home to the New Era Park travel teams, the Dynamite Softball travel teams and the Western New York Spartans.
While most baseball leagues under the umbrella of Little League International begin their season in late April or early May, AnJo has opted to start its house league in July in order to avoid competition with local little leagues and have the chance to integrate those players with its own.
“We opted to push our season back to avoid competing against the likes of Lockport Little League and Royalton-Hartland Little League,” AnJo President Todd Fragale said. “The kids can play their spring seasons with the little league and then they can continue with us and play when there is great weather during the summer. So it’s a way of giving the kids more opportunity for baseball and extends the season.”
Since there are so many different leagues across Niagara County, Lockport Little League has become one of the many crucial partners of AnJo, providing players who crossover when their seasons are finished.
“I have a great relationship with John Godfrey at Lockport Little League,” said Fragale. “We work together to promote AnJo Baseball to his players so that they know about coming over to sign up for our league and then we will help cross-promote his fall league as well.”
The league hasn’t always been strong in recent years, though.
When Fragale took over as league president in 2006, AnJo had an enrollment of 125 players and was struggling to stay afloat.
However, partnerships with local little leagues, a strong relationship with New Era Park and the decision to move the season back to July, enrollment has increased to 325 house league players this season.
“Pushing our season back and working with the other little leagues certainly helped a great deal,” Fragale said of his league’s improvement. “The other thing that helped us a great deal is that this is our sixth year partnered up with New Era Park, which is funded by New Era Cap. They help maintain fields and in exchange they hold tournaments here.”
New Era Park promotes baseball across Western New York, and in addition to making AnJo a home, it has another facility in Depew.
New Era Park has also helped AnJo build a travel baseball program, which started last fall with an 8U team and has increased this year with five more teams called the Bombers.
The Bombers consist of an 8U, 9U, two 10U, 11U and 13U teams that travel across Western New York, while all New Era Park 12U teams use AnJo as their home field, including seven tournaments over the course of the summer.
“We did a really good job of reaching out to local companies for sponsorship,” Fragale said of his tenure as president. “Those sponsorship dollars really helped us sink money back into the complex by improving the fields. One of the things that we did with New Era was skimmed four of the fields so that we can have both baseball and softball on the fields. That was a huge improvement.”
Three of the fields have Mar-Co Clay, which is the same playing surface as Major League Baseball diamonds, which costs $85 per yard. That averages out to roughly $5,000 per field.
The league consists of an Instructional League, the American League (ages nine to 11), and the National League (ages six to eight). There are a total of 14 teams in AnJo, which is not under the Little League International umbrella.
The season began July 14.
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