The Midwest Titans started as a single traveling baseball team based in Salem six years ago. Since then it has grown into a five-team program of about 60 boys ranging in age from nine and under to high schoolers.
The boys play a limited league schedule of games in Phelps, Crawford, Texas and Gasconade counties and in a slew of tournaments, including the Titan Classic held in Salem each May. The Titans draw players from Salem, Cuba, Licking, Rolla, Plato, Bunker, Viburnum and other towns.
Salem’s S.N Ball started the program with Cuba High School Baseball Coach Randy Bouse a few years after their sons, David and Ryan, played on other traveling teams. The two men had frequently coached against each other and developed a friendship.
“Randy had a younger son Riley, the same age as my younger son Corbett,” Ball recalled. “We’d always joke about Round 2, about after these older kids were gone, us getting together and doing a team for the younger kids. The time came and I called him and said, ‘Let’s go.’ And we started building a team from that point.”
Players on the original Titans team had younger brothers, so the program grew.
“We got asked if there could be a Titans’ younger team, so we had two, then there was interest for another team and another team,” Ball said. “It developed from that one little traveling team to a full, blown-out program.”
The five teams and managers are 9 and under, Nathan Wood; 10U, Dave Wild, 12U, Jason Edwards; 13U, Randy Bouse and high school age, Lance Barred and Josh Westerman. They are assisted by several coaches.
All the teams except the high school squad played in the USSSA state tournament over the weekend. They were spread among four venues, 9U in Blue Springs, 10U in Nevada, 12U in Springfield, 13U in North Kansas City/Liberty. The high school team played in a tournament in St. Louis after winning its first tournament of the year the previous weekend.
With so much travel involved, parents make a huge commitment each season.
“This is expensive,” Ball said. “Not only is it a time commitment, there’s also a financial commitment. Program wide we understand that. We also pride ourselves on our sportsmanship. We do not allow our parents to act in an unsportsmanlike manner. We’re very serious about that.”
Fundraisers are used to pay for the season, and any leftover money is put back into the program for equipment, baseballs, uniforms and tournaments, which have expensive entry fees. There have been a few years when enough money is raised to refund player fees, he said.
“The parents that make this commitment for their sons to play on these teams are incredible,” Ball said. “They’re awesome. They’re always willing to go above and beyond to do whatever’s necessary to help the program. They understand the type of commitment we expect.”
Including tournaments, games run from March to July. Bouse called the six-week limited league schedule essentially player development games.
“We give kids opportunities at different positions. Kids who don’t pitch a lot get an opportunity to develop from a pitching standpoint,” he said. “The focus on winning league games isn’t as great as in tournaments.”
Heading into the state tournament, the 13U team was 26-5 and had won four straight tournaments.
“I also like the direction of the 10U team,” he said. “They’ve been placing lately and getting a lot better. And I’ve seen quite a bit of improvement in our 9U team.”
The target for each team is to play 40 games. If the weather cooperates and the Titans make a deep run in tournaments, the total can be a little higher.
“We have three different focuses of our program: winning baseball games, player development and trying to use the game of baseball to try and teach these young men how to conduct themselves as grown men,” Ball said. “We have a general philosophy of teaching the game and how to conduct yourself while playing, and that’s program wide.”
The Titans’ mission statement is simple: Promoting the development of young men through the game of baseball.
Learning how to manage failure is a key aspect of the program. In a game where a good hitter is successful 30 percent of the time, dealing with failure is going to determine how successful your team is and how successful the individual player is, Ball said, adding “I think that translates to life a lot.”
Ball and Bouse also tell their players not to be afraid to be great. Don’t be scared to take a risk.
“If you dive for a ball and you miss it, you are not going to get yelled at in our program,” he said. “Coaches are never going to get onto you for making a mistake. Mistakes are part of learning. If you don’t make mistakes, you’re never going to learn anything. I think that philosophy really resonates with kids.”
“Phrases like that are kind of an extension of our philosophy in trying to develop the kids,” he said. “Give them the mindset that, in life, don’t be a reactionary person. Don’t sit back and wait for things to happen. You’ve got to create your own destiny. Don’t be afraid to be great. Go out and seize opportunities. Be proactive in everything you do.”
Tryouts for the Midwest Titans are usually held in August before school begins. For more information, contact S.N. Ball at The Bank of Salem, (573) 729-3137.