Little League fields are filled with children who dream of one day hitting the game-winning grand slam to win a World Series. But not many Little Leaguers even make their high school varsity team, according to the NCAA, which says only 0.6 percent of high school baseball players go on to the pros.
In the history of the game, only 17,734 men have ever played Major League Baseball, says Baseball-Reference.com. That’s it. Of the millions of little boys and girls who ever picked up a bat, glove or ball.
Weekend warriors still take the diamond in community parks or on high school fields in the MABL (Men’s Adult Baseball League) and NABA (National Adult Baseball Association) because of their love of the game and to let the competitive juices flow, but Scott Green, president of Play At The Plate (www.PlayAtThePlate.org), saw firsthand that grownup ballplayers wanted more.
“My mission was to create the opportunity most of us would never ordinarily have: living the professional baseball experience,” says Green, whose organization has held tournaments and events at professional stadiums like Wrigley Field in Chicago (Cubs), Progressive Field in Cleveland (Indians) and Zephyr Field in New Orleans (Triple-A Affiliate of the Miami Marlins).
Since 2004, thousands of working professionals from all walks of life have taken their well-earned vacation time to live out a childhood dream by traveling to one of the many events and getting treated like a big league ball player. The average age of a Play At The Plate attendee is 48. They experience playing multiple games on professional fields, clubhouse access with laundry and food provided, and the opportunity to use the stadium’s bullpen and batting tunnels.
“As a kid, I thought I was going to be the next Carl Yastremski,” says 58-year-old Paul Laubenstein, owner/operator of the New England Senior Hockey League in the greater Boston area.
Obviously that didn’t happen, but that doesn’t mean his big league dreams died as he grew up.
“The clubhouse experience is great,” says Laubenstein, who has played at Wrigley Field, Progressive Field, PNC Park in Pittsburgh (Pirates) and Chase Field in Arizona (Diamondbacks) all with Play At The Plate.
“The first time I got on the field at Fenway Park I cried,” he recalls from attending a Red Sox fantasy camp. “Without getting too weird, as a lover of the game it’s almost a religious experience.”
Green’s labor of love has become a full-time job, working with Major League Baseball to try and secure more stadiums for his players. “There’s a certain bonding that happens when guys from all around the country get to play on a pro ball field and then hang out with each other in the clubhouse,” says Green. “I am very proud not only to call them my clients but my friends.
This year Play At The Plate will return to Roger Dean Stadium in Jupiter, FL in April 12-15, PNC Park in Pittsburgh June 25-26, and Progressive Field in Cleveland Aug. 3-4. More tournaments and locations can be found at www.PlayAtThePlate.org.
Jay Lehr, a physicist from Chicago, started playing baseball at the age of 8. He’s never gone pro but also never stopped playing.
“Playing on a professional field is a magnificent surreal experience,” he says. Lehr adds, “I am a catcher looking up at the stadium in disbelief that I am behind the plate.”
By the way, Lehr is 75 years old. He serves as a reminder that you can live your dream no matter what your age.
Scott Green is the president of Play At The Plate (www.PlayAtThePlate.org), which since 2004 has held tournaments and events at some of the finest and most historic sites in baseball history including Wrigley Field (Chicago Cubs), Labatt Park in London, Ontario, Canada (the oldest ballpark in North America) and Doubleday Field in Cooperstown, N.Y. Play At The Plate has also held tournaments at Progressive Field (Cleveland Indians), PNC Park (Pittsburgh Pirates) and Chase Field (Arizona Diamondbacks).
—Photo Scrap Pile/Flickr