A little more than three years after Red Land made its storied run to the Little League World Series championship game, the organization is leaving Little League Baseball.
The organization, officially renamed Red Land Youth Baseball as of Wednesday, will seek to join Cal Ripken Baseball in January.
The vote by the then-Red Land LL’s board Nov. 30 came with near unanimous approval. It means youth baseball players in Red Land’s system will be in a new organization for the first time since 1974, when Red Land joined Little League.
That is all according to RLYB president Jim Janovich.
“This was a difficult decision,” Janovich said Wednesday. “In our meetings we thought about the impact it would have. … At the end of the day we’re hoping that (the community and current and former families in the association) understand the game is changing and we want to change with it.”
The move comes three years after Red Land won the 2015 U.S. championship, led by Cole Wagner and cousin Luke Wagner. Red Land LL became a national story, visiting the White House, the Baltimore Orioles and making several other tour stops following the team’s longest run in Little League history.
An eye-opener for Little League? To Janovich’s knowledge, no other recent former U.S. Little League champ has left Little League for Cal Ripken. Red Land could draw the attention of Little League leadership.
“Someone asked me the other day, ‘Do you think this will be eye-opening for Little League?’” Janovich said. “And I said, ‘I hope so.’”
Janovich said the board did take into consideration what it might say about Little League that one of its recent U.S. champs is switching gears not even four years removed from playing in Williamsport.
Discussions started in 2014: It made the decision no less difficult, Janovich said. But he also said the first discussions about leaving for Cal Ripken began in 2014, before the championship run.
“In hindsight, it was actually a good thing (the talks didn’t progress then) because it allowed those boys to make an awesome run to Williamsport,” Janovich said.
But, he said, the conversation came up again in December, 2017. It was too late in the year to organize, alter the organization by-laws and apply for a Cal Ripken Charter then, but Red Land’s board made the decision to revisit the issue in the summer.
As soon as the season ended in August, Red Land hired a lawyer and began the process of leaving Little League Baseball, Janovich said. Cal Ripken has been notified Red Land will join when charter applications begin in January.
“We have to do whatever is best for the kids right now,” Janovich said. “Little League, in all honesty, has been very good to us.”
Primary motivation: The primary motivation for joining Cal Ripken is to have players ages 11-12, in the majors division, play with a 50-foot distance from home plate to the pitching rubber and 70 feet from home to first base. That is an increase from LL’s 46-foot pitching distance and 60-foot base paths.
“Little League has been changing or making small alterations to their rules the past 2-3 years to kind of curb the bleeding a little bit,” Janovich said. “I think at some point they have to come to a realization that … (what people want) is the 50/70 at the majors level.
“I hope Little League sees the light.”
Also, Cal Ripken’s charter is about half the price of Little League. And CRB offers more all-star team age brackets than Little League.
Losing kids: Janovich said Red Land was losing between 15-20 kids per year for the past 2-3 years to Cal Ripken organizations, which have more lenient boundary rules than LL.
Red Land is the latest local change in the youth baseball community.
Mechanicsburg Little League left its charter in 2018 and joined Upper Allen Baseball Association, already a Cal Ripken member. New Cumberland Youth Baseball Association and Cedar Cliff Youth Baseball are also members of CRB.
Cal Ripken, which operates under Babe Ruth Baseball, Inc., began in 2012 and had grown to more than 2,600 teams in 2013, according to The Plant City Observer. Little League Baseball, meanwhile, according to The Times Herald-Record, has seen a decline of more than 500,000 from the mid-1990s (3 million) to 2015 (2.4 million).
Possible return to LL? When asked if Red Land would consider moving back to Little League in the future if the organization matched Red Land’s current needs, Janovich said that would be up to that RLYB board to decide.
He did say the RLYB by-laws have been changed during the process in a way that will make it easier for the association to change affiliation in the future if it desires to.