By Adam Morissette
OTTAWA- Established in 2006 by Baseball Canada to address a growing need for a stable and athlete-focused environment at the initiation level, the DQ Rally Cap program has grown to become the program of choice for many minor baseball associations across Canada.
Canada isn’t the only place that you’ll find 4-8 year-olds participating in Rally Cap in 2017, as the Cleveland Indians Youth Baseball program will be piloting the program in four leagues this summer.
Former big leaguer and Cleveland native Matt Kata heads up the Indians Youth Baseball Development efforts and became aware of the Rally Cap program five years ago.
“Through my own research, as someone who wanted to learn as much as possible, I came across Baseball Canada and the programs that the organization was implementing,” explained Kata. “I love the concept (of Rally Cap). I go back to my childhood being in the backyard creating games. It wasn’t 9 vs 9; it was getting so many touches and so many throws. Seeing (Rally Cap) on the surface, the way it’s structured and the goals it was immediately something that I wanted to know more about.”
Following his playing career that concluded in Round Rock, Texas, Kata landed a role with the triple-A club doing community outreach through baseball camps and clinics. From what he describes as a ‘random LinkedIn connection’ with current Blue Jays’ president Mark Shapiro, who was running Cleveland’s front office at the time, Kata jumped at the opportunity to move back home and head-up the Indians Youth Development operations.
“I basically had a blank canvas to grow the (Youth Baseball) department and really try and make an impact on the youth baseball experience. It was exciting,” he said.
With an eye towards implementing the Rally Cap program in some of Cleveland’s local leagues, Kata reached out to Baseball Canada’s André Lachance to learn more about the program.
“Matt called me looking to learn about Rally Cap and our discussions have really been positive,” said Lachance. “I think it’s tremendous what their department will be doing this summer and we’re happy to be a resource for them.”
Four different leagues in the greater Cleveland-area, totaling over 700 kids will be participating in Rally Cap pilot programs this summer.
‘We’ve put our own ‘Indians Way’ spin on the program but the core principals and practice plans are the same (as Rally Cap),” said Kata.
With a focus on coach development and with coaching clinics already underway for the four participating leagues, the program has already been well received.
“Ultimately the coaches are executing the program so it’s our job to provide them with the information that they’ll need to make this happen,” added Kata. “We’re really getting positive reviews so far.”
Even though the pilot programs are set to launch this spring, Kata is extremely confident that Rally Cap will be a home run and has his own personal experience to fall back on.
It was just last summer, through coaching his own children in baseball that Kata decided to incorporate Rally Cap elements into his teachings.
“I was coaching with a friend of mine and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we try this?’” when discussing using the Rally Cap program instead of playing a regular baseball game. “After seeing how successful it was, we approached the commissioner of the league with the idea and they were 100 per cent on board.
“Basically, every kid improved and really enjoyed their summer.”
As with anything, when you introduce change there may be some form of resistance and push back. But for Matt Kata and the Indians’ Youth Development program, the reasons are quite simple for introducing Rally Cap.
“How can you argue when your kid is getting all these reps in the outfield and then sprinting in, getting high fives and playing a baseball game,” he said.
“You get that one opportunity to flip that switch on with baseball. I think it’s the greatest game in the world, but when it’s not set up like Rally Cap, it may not be the greatest game in the world.”