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Organizers have merged the two youth baseball leagues in the Swannanoa Valley in the hopes of providing better opportunities for players.

The new Owen Babe Ruth Baseball and Softball incorporates the old Owen Little League and Charles D. Owen Babe Ruth in Swannanoa. The former was large, with some 300 players. The latter was small, with about 30 participants last season. Now, all will have a lot more opportunity.

“Now, our teams will play from Haw Creek to Ridgecrest,” said John Shaw, league president and president of the old Owen Little League. The Owen Little League was one of only three Little League districts left in Buncombe County after teams in the east and south Asheville left to join the WNC Youth Sports Association last year. That made getting games in the county difficult, Shaw said, forcing him to schedule games as far away as Jackson County.

With Babe Ruth ball, the new Owen league will be one of seven in the county, with the opportunity to play kids from all over the county, Shaw said. Elite players will be selected for teams that play in weekend tournaments in Buncombe, Henderson and Madison counties.

“The weekend tournament teams are a cheaper alternative to much more expensive travel ball teams,” Shaw said. “And the teams will be made up of the best each league has to offer. We are hoping this will entice some of the kids we have lost over the years to come back and play ball with us.”

The league is also looking into starting a Challenger League for youth and adults who are physically or developmentally disabled, Shaw said. Combined, Owen Babe Ruth will have access to seven ball fields at Black Mountain Rec Park and Owen Park in Swannanoa.

League administrators are working to upgrade the ball fields at Owen Park. Anyone who would like to donate help or supplies can call Shaw at 691-3236, he said.

Teresa Elder’s older son Charlie has played in the Owen Little League for three years and will be playing in the Babe Ruth League. All of his buddies have played organized baseball, including his best friend, his mother said.

Merging the two youth baseball leagues will benefit baseball in the Valley, Shaw said. “Our kids will be facing better competition, and in turn it will make them better,” he said.

Kids from Swannanoa and Black Mountain, Elder said, “will play together and get to know each other” before they start playing baseball at Owen Middle School. “These kids will learn to work together and will know each others’ strengths and weaknesses” before joining school-coached ball, she said.

The merger into the new Babe Ruth league will also help the players and their caregivers get to know other athletes and parents around the county, she said.

Girls are not barred from playing baseball - many do during the first few years, Shaw said. But by age 10, they typically want to join their other girlfriends in playing softball, he said.

Shaw grew up playing youth sports in the Valley. The advantages were - and are - many, he said.

“It gives you a sense of pride and accomplishment and sense of being part of a team with kids you grow up and go to school with,” he said.

How to register

To register your child age 3-18 in Owen Babe Ruth Baseball and Softball, sign up at Swannanoa First Baptist Church every Friday between Jan. 29-Feb. 19 from 6:30-8 p.m. and Saturdays between Jan. 30-Feb. 20 from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Or sign up at Owen Middle School from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturdays beginning Jan. 30.

There will soon be an opportunity to sign up online (check Owen Babe Ruth’s Facebook page). The sign ups will be for T-ball, coach pitch, machine pitch and kid pitch for baseball and softball. The cost per athlete is $50.

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