It's hard to imagine now, but Leo Johnson of Attleboro recalls a time when summertime youth baseball in Southeastern Massachusetts was in jeopardy.
The Southeastern Youth Baseball Association (SYBA) folded at the end of the summer in 1994, leaving the local parks empty, diamonds cleared and a hole where the area's youth wanted to play ball after the spring season.
According to Johnson, though, Frank Giffune wasn't going to stand for it.
The Foxboro resident went to work, creating the Hockomock Summer Baseball League, which is now synonymous with summertime south of Boston.
"All of these years later, we’re still going strong," Johnson said. "It’s definitely one of the best summer baseball leagues in the state. Right now we have 15 towns in the area that compete and play in the summer baseball program."
Johnson, who serves as the president, has seen the league evolve since it's creation 18 years ago.
Canton joined the league this past year, adding to the expansion of the league, which is separated into different age levels, ranging from 9 to 18.
The largest expansion occurred three years ago when another division was added to give more children the opportunity to play. Now, the league is separated into an "American League" division and a "National League" division at most age levels.
"Voting for these all-star teams is pretty tough," Vice President Mark Boutler said. "When you’re only able to give 12 kids the opportunity to play competitive all-star baseball, it was tough. One of the best things the Hock did was make another division level. It gives those next 12 kids a chance to play very good baseball."
Boutler said he is the only member of the league's Board of Directors who still has a child playing. He says the Board Members' dedication shows how strong the league and its volunteers are.
"These guys love baseball," he said. "They love being a part of a program- a league that gives the opportunity for these kids to really play some good, competitive baseball over the summer."
In addition to a Board of Directors, the league has scorekeepers, representatives from 15 separate towns, and a slew of coaches volunteering during the five week season in June and July.
Boutler said coaches, parents and players must make a commitment that results in playing close to 30 games in 30 days when other tournaments are added to the fray.
"For six or seven weeks even before the season starts putting this whole thing together, it’s very intense," added Johnson.
"Although it’s a lot of work, it’s like second nature. It just comes together very quickly and it runs incredibly smoothly throughout the five weeks."
Despite the time commitment, the players love their summer baseball, Johnson said, which has helped the league grow.
"Everything is year-round now," he said. "Sports aren’t seasonal now. Everything is year-round, but I really don’t think we’ve been affected. We’ve had the same number of teams in the league as we did in 1995, and obviously with the addition of the National League we have more kids playing."
The league will begin it's playoff schedule on July 24 and 25. On July 27, it will award two $500 scholarships to graduating high school seniors and former players. It is the second year the league has done so.
This year's recipients of the aptly named Frank Giffune Scholarship are Tyler Durant of Wrentham and Steve Nagle of Mansfield.
The remainder of the league's schedules are on it's website, which can be found here.
When the final games are played and the boys of summer are gone, the planning will begin for yet another summer season.
"I just want to see the right thing done for kids," Boutler said. "..That they're being treated fairly and they’re part of a league like this, which is going to create lasting memories for their life and I hope I can help create memories for these kids growing up and becoming young men."