The Manchester Softball League won the BSF "League of the Year" award in 2010 for development achievement, but it hasn't rested on its laurels. MSL Committee members have stepped up their efforts in 2011, in conjunction with BSUK, and there have been significant developments with regard to facilities, sponsorship, growth umpire development and communication.
The MSL's dedicated show pitch (PW7 or Parrs Wood 7), first developed with the help of a BSUK Small Grant in 2010, has been getting a lot of attention from passers-by since the addition of an outfield fence in April this year and the completion of a new backstop in June.
These additions have dramatically changed the game for teams that play there.
MSL League Head Harry Somers wrote: "The latest stage of development on Pitch 7 at Parrs Wood has seen a backstop fence erected. Situated the regulation 25 feet (minimum) behind home plate, the 10-foot wide fence is a towering 16 feet high, enough for the wildest of throws, but also plainly visible from the road and even from the bridge linking the two fields."
The outfield fence, which cost £1500, was paid for in its entirety by the Manchester Airport Community Trust Fund.
As well as providing increased visibility for the pitch, which has certainly attracted new players to the league this year, the fence is seen as a great opportunity to attract advertising. It may also provide the answer to the problems pitchers have with the setting sun late in the season!
BSUK North West Regional Development Manager Luis Arrevillagas said: "I umpire weekly in the league and I am very glad to see that we are getting closer and closer to playing proper softball. I think that in a few months the players will never want to go back to open fields!"
Meanwhile, news has emerged of a deal with Virgin Active, which has become a major supporter of the MSL, to sponsor the Manchester Open Tournament in August.
The tournament sponsorship package does not involve financial support, but instead will include free access to the gym at Parrs Wood for all tournament participants, prizes for the raffle and spot prizes for specific achievements such as a home run, double play and so on.
Virgin Active will endorse all-day parking at the Parrs Wood Centre (normally restricted to a few hours) and there is also the possibility that the company can provide a massage service on one or both days of the tournament.
The Manchester Softball League welcomed four new teams at the beginning of the 2011 season.
Now, with the support of Virgin Active and BSUK's North West Regional Coach and Club Development Officer Liz Knight, a fifth team, to be called the Virgin Pirates, has been recruited to enter the league mid-season.
Most games in MSL's Division Three, which are played on Tuesday evenings, are now umpired by neutral umpires, with a few of them being BASU-qualified. The challenge is to get all games in Divisions One and Two to be umpired by a neutral umpire as well.
This may not happen overnight, but MSL Umpire-in-Chief Peter Jones has already taken some steps towards getting more people to know and understand the rules and maybe get bit by the umpiring bug.
Peter recently ran a one-day MASU (like BASU, but with the Manchester M) umpire course at the Hough End Police Club, attended by 14 people -- a mixture of relative rookies but with some long-established faces thrown in. Many of these will hopefully be calling games in the near future!
The MSL Committee believes than an important element in the success of the league lies in the way they communicate with their members.
The MSL review "Bases Loaded" is time-consuming and costs money to produce, but it is well read and truly appreciated by the 400-plus members of the league, as well as many non-members. The review is produced both online and in a paper edition.
Click here to have a look.
Leading by example
Luis Arrevillagas has been impressed by the MSL's recent achievements.
"The Manchester Softball League is an example of what the community can really do to get better ," Luis said. "The MSL Committee members are not waiting for anybody else to organise their games and tournaments, develop their fields and bring more people into the sport. They are using the tools that are there for them, such as volunteers, the private sector, the local Council, schools and of course the BSF and BSUK. I am really happy to see the league develop so fast and to work with them.
"When they approach BSUK asking for support," Luis added, "we know exactly what they want. Similarly, when people approach us wanting to play softball, we know exactly what support the new people will be offered by the league and by whom. They are very welcoming to new players, and that is a key to growth.
"They have a short, medium and long-term plan," Luis said. "It's not as formal as that may sound, but they know where they want to go. More importantly they are very inclusive and they are having fun!"