On the Rise
By Nathan Clinkenbeard
If anyone could be an expert at the growth of travel baseball, it’s Bill Hanna.
Hanna created the West Michigan Black Sox, a travel program near Kalamazoo, Michigan, in 2012 and fielded just two teams, 8U and 9U. This year, the Black Sox ballooned to nine teams, and it sounds like 2014 will no doubt be bigger.
“My background was that I was an old high school coach for eight years at Parchment High School right outside of Kalamazoo,” Hanna said. “My wife and I had our fourth child, and I stopped coaching. Well, as soon as my kid hit the age of 9 people started talking to me, ‘You need to get into travel baseball.’”
Those seven words were enough to get Hanna’s mind going. He did some research, and in no time he was hosting tryouts ready to get those competitive juices flowing again.
The first tryout was a success with 22 kids showing up to be a part of the 9U team. Only 12 were selected, but Hanna decided to create an 8U Black Sox team as well with some of the younger kids that had tried out for the older group.
As head coach of the 9U team, Hanna and his Black Sox went 15-13 with one tournament championship. They finished runner-up in two other events and wound up fifth at the BPA State Championship. It was a solid start for the West Michigan Black Sox, and they were gaining momentum with every game they played.
This season came along, and word had spread about the Black Sox. An 11U and 12U teams were added, but the growth didn’t end there. Soon, there was a second 10U and 12U team. And then someone wanted a 13U team. And then a high school coach asked about an 18U team. Before you knew it, two teams in 2012 turned into nine teams for 2013.
“We just started as a small community, and it turned into this big thing,” Hanna said. “Basically, the word got out, and when you create something and do it the right way, people are going to follow.”
The original West Michigan Black Sox, Hanna’s now 10U White team, had an outstanding 2013 season going 27-10 with two tournament titles. This year they improved two places at the BPA Michigan State Tournament, finishing third, and they were No. 9 in the final USSSA “AA” Michigan power rankings.
The Black Sox 10U White ended their season at the BPA Northern World Series in Warsaw, Indiana on July 24-28 when they lost in the Sweet 16.
As for the other eight Black Sox teams, the 12U White team is headed to the Cooperstown Dreams Park for the Tournament of Champions starting Aug. 17. Cooperstown is a goal for all of the younger Black Sox players, and the 10U White already has a spot for 2015.
Hanna was also asked to start softball, but he knows he’ll probably have three or four more baseball teams in 2014 to the nine already in the Black Sox organization.
There’s no doubt the West Michigan Black Sox are a program on the rise and one to watch out for on the diamond, not just in their home state of Michigan.
West Michigan Black Sox 10U – White
Head Coach: Bill Hanna
Coaches: Scott Bielski, Courtney Jasiak