published Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Jucos' instructional leagues help prep baseballers

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    Greg Dennis is a baseball coach and dance instructor at Chattanooga State Community College.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
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The Chattanooga State and Cleveland State baseball programs both will be starting their annual instructional leagues for high school players within a couple of weeks, and both still have openings in what clearly has been a win-win addition to area development in the sport.

The Chattanooga State fall league is the older and bigger of the two, with a capacity of 70-plus players going into its fourth year. It will have games three evenings a week, starting Aug. 20, with a total of 12 planned for each 12-man team. Cleveland State uses two nights for two teams, starting Aug. 13.

The leagues are affordable alternatives for grades 9-12 players who can't make the time or financial commitment for travel baseball in the fall, Chatt State coach Greg Dennis said.

"It gets them on a college facility with college-level coaching in a number of areas of their game," Dennis added, "and hopefully they can hone their craft for the spring."

He and Cleveland State countepart Mike Policastro each has signed a few players who came through the instructional leagues.

"A neat thing for me is that we saw a lot of these kids in our summer camps, starting when they were 12 or 13 years old, and then we get to see them progress through their high school years," Dennis said.

His league had three teams in 2011 and already has 35 players signed up -- about the total in past years -- with nearly two weeks before the Aug. 16 evaluation day. Players will be grouped by ability as well as age.

Dennis said he had eight registered at this point last year.

Ten of the 35 are returners from 2011, at $100 per player, meaning that 25 are newcomers bringing in $200 each to the Tigers program.

"One of the really cool things for me is that we have like 15 high schools represented already, from Grundy County and Bledsoe to Ridgeland," Dennis said. "And there are others we're expecting in the next week or so."

Policastro wants "25 to 30" players and likewise is about halfway to the goal in registrations. His league draws mainly from McMinn, Polk and Rhea counties as well as Bradley and Hamilton; some have come from as far away as Loudon.

"We go five weeks, either Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Thursday, and get in 10 games to go with three sessions that are college-type practices," Policastro said. "We put both our teams in the 18-under tournament we hold every September, and that wraps it up.

"It's been pretty good for us, and I think it's been good for the players who've come through. We try to get everybody [at least] two at-bats per game, and they play at their primary position plus a secondary position."

Both leagues use modified rules, such as beginning 1-1 counts or pitch limits per inning or batter, to get as many innings as possible in 90 minutes.

Anyone interested in the Cleveland State league can contact Policastro at mpolicastro@clevelandstatecc.edu or 423-478-6219. Players wanting to sign up for the Chatt State league can download a form from the school's website or call 423-697-2418.

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