Why aren't children coming any more?
The organizers of the CABA World Series in Aurelia have crooked their fingers in the direction of the bullpen, but there's no reliever warming up to get the save this time.
The Continental Amateur Baseball Association World Series is in deep trouble, after 17 years as an integral part of the Aurelia community.
Shortly before a town meeting on Sunday held in an effort to save the CABA tournament, director Rich Hinkhouse resigned from his post. The World Series has also seen a drastic decrease in teams willing to participate. Several years ago, the field had up to 18 teams from across the U.S. as well as Mexico and Puerto Rico. Last July, only five teams came - three from Iowa, and one each from neighboring areas of Illinois and Missouri.
Some Aurelians also feel that the Ohio-based CABA baseball organization isn't providing the needed support to the World Series for age 10-and-under athletes in the small rural Iowa town, choosing instead to concentrate on more urban tournaments.
No candidates to become the new local leader have stepped forward.
"Right now there is no director. The committee has been looking for someone, but they haven't found a person to take this on," said Rich Hinkhouse, who said he will walk away from the responsibilities "very soon."
With no leader and declining participation that saw the week-long event shorted to just a few days in 2003, there is a very real possibility that Aurelia will lose CABA.
"I think the likelihood will be that CABA will start to look for a new place to take the World Series very soon if we don't get it together," Hinkhouse said. "I know for sure that if we can't do it, there are some other cities that would very much like to have this event."
After a number of years at the helm as only the second director in the history of the event at Aurelia, Hinkhouse is upset to see the tournament threatened.
"It would be sad, really sad, to see CABA leave the Aurelia and Cherokee area now. In a community of this size, you don't want to see any good event go away."
The director leaves the diamonds with no hard feelings, he says, and a desire to have more time to spend with his family. "It is a volunteer position, but it's basically a year-around job to do everything that it takes to make a good World Series tournament," he said. "It became apparent that the committee was interested in doing something different, and I thought this was the time to let them get some new blood in there."
Committee members are having to search for other alternatives.
While there is some speculation that they could look to a different national youth sports organization to take over the tournament, or perhaps look to more than one person to share director responsibilities, nothing was resolved at Sunday's town meeting, Hinkhouse said.
"The committee members do want to continue this tournament, but it isn't going to happen without a director."
All the community has right now is "a lot of unanswered questions," he said.
A number of factors can be blamed for the exodus of quality teams that formerly competed to come to Aurelia to represent regions as farflung as Mexico City, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Honolulu.
"The downturn in the economy is certainly part of it, as more parents may not be able to afford a long trip for baseball, but there are other factors too," Hinkhouse said.
There are more activities siphoning off children from youth baseball leagues - from soccer and other summer league programs to video game fever. There are more single-parent families than in the early years of the local CABA program, and more competing youth sport organizations now exist.
The losses are no reflection on the community or the quality of the event, Hinkhouse feels.
"Every team that has come has been satisfied. I've heard nothing but high compliments on the tourney and the way it is run here. The committee is also a good group to work with, they are very selfless people for what they put into this."
In addition to providing well-manicured fields, support services, food and promotion, the Aurelia community has embraced the visiting athletes - throwing them a picnic in the park, a big parade, a Fun Day full of free food and activities.
Hinkhouse said that he would remain on the committee if the other members wish, and will help out at the tournament site, but he feels he cannot take back his resignation. "After seven years, you get worn out," he said.
There is still a chance to save the tournament for the small town, but it would have to act now, Hinkhouse suggests. "There are people here who have been involved for years and years, and I know they don't want it to go away now. But this is where the buck stops - we have to have someone to run it, very soon."
Anyone interested in volunteering, call 225-2715.