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Youth Baseball Association strives to create consistent winners

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When Russ Hinrichs officially took over as the head coach of the Cardinal baseball program last August, he did so with an idea in mind of how to make it successful year in and year out.

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Hinrichs knew that success would be contingent on how his players were taught the game at the youth level. That is why he decided to take the initiative to create the Alexandria Youth Baseball Association (AYBA).

Hinrichs started meeting last August with Mitch Loch of the Alexandria VFW teams and Kevin Engebretson of the American Legion, along with a number of other parents who have been involved with baseball in the community. Since then, the program has raised almost $16,000 to go toward youth baseball programs in Alexandria.

"When I got the position as head coach, one of my goals was to bring all of the youth baseball associations together and talk about the philosophy and how baseball should be played in Alexandria," Hinrichs said. "We needed a better way to organize teams - the traveling teams, the VFW, the Legion, there are so many different entities. I thought if we could get everyone together under one umbrella, that would make all the programs better."

Bringing every youth baseball organization in Alexandria into one association should help deliver a consistent message to the players. With one philosophy, Hinrichs knows the players he gets on the high school level will have been taught the same principles of the game at every level.

"I really believe as coaches we all need one philosophy," he said. "If they are teaching and coaching the same things as 7th graders as we do at the varsity level, that can only benefit us."

The AYBA has also made fundraising for the programs easier. Instead of competing for funds, the VFW, Legion and high school programs are now raising money under one name.

"We need to work together to raise money as one group as opposed to separately," Hinrichs said. "People become inundated by all the requests for money. Instead of a company being asked three times for money, how about we just ask once.

"We want to raise enough funds to support Legion, VFW and make contributions to the high school program. We wanted to organize tournaments during the summer under this organization. Long term, we're looking at helping with facilities if need be."

The cost of producing a competitive product on the field is not cheap. Hinrichs wants the athletes to play in the best tournaments against the best teams from around the state. That makes traveling around Minnesota a necessity in the summer.

The organization got a boost recently when Scott Giroux of Landscape Creations purchased a bus and donated it to the organization. Teams will use the bus to travel this summer, which will help reduce the cost of transportation and travel expenses.

The group is more than half way to its goal of raising $30,000 in its first year. To make it easier to donate, the AYBA has now created the Dugout Club with a variety of different opportunities for individuals and companies that want to donate.

There are different levels of Dugout Club memberships, from Grand Slam, which features title sponsorship of the American Legion baseball team, to single packages. All donations will receive an AYBA decal and recognition of donation level on a sponsorship wall at Knute Nelson Stadium. Fundraisers such as spaghetti feeds and youth clinics will also help raise money for baseball in Alexandria.

Anyone interested in donating through the Dugout Club can find more information at www.alexyouthbaseball.com.

Every donation will go toward what the AYBA hopes will be a world-class baseball program that can be a source of pride for the entire community.

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