Ultimate volunteers: Youth baseball league survives with volunteer efforts

Watch a multimedia video about Farmington Baseball League President John Wendt.

Story and multimedia by JORDON CAHOON

What makes one person willing to do what others are not? It’s hard enough to make someone take a well paying job that isn’t appealing. Imagine just how hard it is to make someone volunteer for a stressful, non-paying position, especially in a down economy. This is a position where the only acknowledgement you will receive is for what you haven’t done or what you did to benefit yourself and your family. Sounds like a winner right?

John Wendt is the volunteer president of the Farmington Area Baseball League, also known as FABL, and has been now for the past three years.

“I’d be lying if I told you it was easy,” Wendt said, “but there is some satisfaction that comes from knowing I can give back, and help kids today play ball.”

The league is led each season by a group of parents that are elected by their peers for the positions of league President, Vice President, Treasurer, Secretary, and Umpire Director. All of these positions are unpaid and take quite a toll on the members’ time.

“I kind of fell into the role of president,” said Wendt, “we had attended a leadership meeting where the former President and Vice, both announced they were going to resign.”

Wendt, having two young boys ages three and six at the time, both just entering the league, was a perfect candidate for FABL’s next President. After a few hours of pointing out how and why someone else would make a good president, all that had attended the meeting had come to agree that Wendt would take over the following year as the next league president.

“To be honest I didn’t know what I had just got myself and family into,” Wendt said. “Not to mention that I had no idea of what I was going to do and how I was going to do it.”

FABL began in 1991, when a group of parents were unhappy with the way their city-ran league was being led. They put together the money and organized a self-sustaining league that over the past twenty years has seen a meteoric rise, becoming and maintaining the standing of one of the top leagues in PONY Baseball since 2000.

“The parents just weren’t happy with what was and wasn’t getting done,” said Gaylen Perry, former FABL vice president, “so the parents took over and the league has never looked back.”

FABL has its opening ceremonies April 16, which means there is a lot to get done in short time leading up to the events. With the weather the way it’s been this year, the task of getting the fields prepared for opening day is becoming even more time consuming for these volunteer parents.

“There were weeks where I spent a good 40 plus hours working on the fields just trying to get them going,” Perry said. “Between leveling out the fields, to building new dugouts, even just getting rid of the water to make it playable is a lot of work.”

Wendt and his son have been spending a few hours each day, after school, work, and practice to get the fields prepped for the events on Saturday.

“It’s kind of amazing how the whole thing just comes together, for a long while it just looks and feels like you are getting nowhere,” Wendt said.  “Then, next thing you know, you are laying chalk down and marking your batter’s box and ready to play ball. “

Aside from just trying to get the fields ready for opening night, Wendt and his wife, Becky, spend a considerable amount of time preparing for the season and planning out concessions and fundraisers to help generate some revenue for the league.

“We’re going to have a radar-gun-challenge, people from the Salt Lake Bee’s, our own FABL merchandise, as well as our concession stand running for opening day.” Becky Wendt said. “The whole process of planning it out has been a lot of work but should turn out worth it in the end.”

The Wendt family as a whole is generally at the fields five nights a week, whether playing in games or not. The total amount of hours worked each week by the family is on average 60 hours between John, Becky and their eldest son.

“Sure other places do it different and that may in fact be easier,” Wendt Said, “but this gives you a sense of ownership and accomplishment. Plus at the end of the day hanging out at the ball park isn’t that bad of a place to be anyways.”

Volunteering that much time doesn’t come easy, let alone in an economy like the one we’ve seen the past few years. Running a league and having to field the complaints of what isn’t going well and what should be fixed, and little Joey’s coach doesn’t play him enough, is sure to take a toll on someone. How much longer is can or will someone continue holding the torch?

“The former president was here for quite a while and did some really good things,” Wendt said. “I’ll probably stick around as long as my kids are playing or wanting to play in the league, unless someone else decides they want to step in and run it.”

For a league built and maintained by volunteers, it’s not easy to find the time and funding to keep a league running as smoothly as FABL does. Despite a poor economy, so few volunteers, and having to work themselves, they get it done.

“The league has taken off and seemed to be able to carry itself,” Wendt said, “sure it would be easier if we could have some positions paid, but when it comes down to it we almost always are ready for the games.”