Deerfield community comes together for Wooden Bat Tournament

Introducing the village’s youngsters to baseball folklore has become a community tradition for the Deerfield Youth Baseball and Softball Association (DYBA), which just hosted its 12th annual Wooden Bat Tournament.

While baseball players between 8 and 14 got used to swinging wood bats June 11-14, more than 170 parents of children in travel baseball and softball volunteered to make sure everything went right and raise money for charity.

“Everybody comes together to help the cause,” Tournament Director Gregg Orloff said. That included helping with concessions, preparing the fields and working with the Deerfield Park District.

With more than 78 youth baseball teams from throughout Chicago participating, the tournament culminated with Bat Fest the evening of June 14 at Jewett Park.

“We have Whiffle Ball for the little kids, live music, food and a dunk tank,” Orloff said. “The Deerfield 14U team plans its final game under the lights.” That squad is the oldest of the ones playing.

The dunk tank is where the charitable donations come in. Children and adults can see if their pitching skills are accurate enough to hit the button that will soak one of the DYBA volunteer coaches. Some of the proceed go to the Deerfield Bannockburn Fire Protection District, which supervises the tank, and the rest goes to Buddy Baseball.

Sponsored by the North Shore Special Recreation Association, Buddy Baseball helps children with special needs. Players unable to swing a bat on their own can be assisted by an able-bodied “buddy” at the plate so they can hit the ball.

While Orloff is responsible for the overall effort of the tourney, Volunteer Coordinator Lynne Siegel recruits the people who help and makes sure they are all in the right place at the proper time.

As the event moved into its third day late in the afternoon of June 13, Siegel was driving from one park to another, making sure the volunteers staffing the concession stands were present and had the food and drink they needed.

“We make it like a family affair,” Siegel said. “The dads, mostly dads, get out there to rake and stripe the fields after each game. Everybody volunteers and plays a role.”

This year’s event was special, because the Wooden Bat Tournament grew to 78 teams, up from 48 teams in previous years.

“We really weren’t using all our fields,” Orloff said. “We took a big look at how we could use all our fields and pushed the envelope to freshen [the tourney] up.”

Once the 78 teams were in place, Orloff, Siegel and the rest of the tournament committee realized there could be enough money to put some back into the community.

“We looked around for an organization that had something to do with baseball,” Orloff said. “Buddy Baseball was perfect.”

Why wood bats when players from T-ball through college now use aluminum?

“It’s a novelty,” Orloff said — although the young ballplayers who use the lumber find it somewhat of a challenge.

“It’s a little harder to hit,” Deerfield Warrior 11U player Matt Siciliano said. “There’s not as much pop off the bat.”

Still, Orloff said those wooden bats have something special.

“It’s something that everyone wants to cling to as a traditional part of the game.”

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