As the season gets underway this weekend for Catonsville Rec girls softball squads, count on Chuck Kreis being there to make sure the burgeoning youth program is getting off to a good start.
Opening day for the in-house season that concludes June 14 promises to be a special experience for the kids.
For one thing, it will be picture day for all the teams in their new uniforms. Moreover, each batter will be announced over a public address system donated by a former coach.
For Kreis, it's important that the players are enjoying themselves.
Kreis has heard complaints about softball, that it's boring and not as fast-paced as its spring sister, lacrosse, a sport with increasing popularity among youth and high school-aged players in this area.
But the Catonsville Rec softball commissioner insists that softball is not in direct competition with lacrosse for participants.
The two sports are, he said, separate and distinct activities.
And for those who dismiss softball, Kreis has news for them. In his program, which he has been running for three years, kids are enjoying their experiences on the diamond.
"I put a lot of energy into convincing kids it's fun," he said. "But softball is hard, and you have to realize that there's going to be a lot of failure for kids before they learn the skills that make it fun.
"We're very aware of what lacrosse offers. We can't have kids running around like they do in lacrosse. It's a different sport," he said. "But we still try to incorporate a lot of movement into our practices, and that makes it more fun."
The Catonsville Rec softball program is now brimming with 311 girls in four levels: clinic, 10 and under, 12 and under, and 17 and under. It has nearly doubled in size over the past couple of years, leading to the conclusion that Kreis' methods are working.
"You just don't see a guy as dedicated as Chuck very often," said third generation Catonsville resident Pete McDevitt, who coaches his 10-year-old daughter, Amber, on the Catonsville Chaos 12 and under travel team.
"I think I put in about 500 hours a year volunteering for the program," he said. "Chuck puts in three times that, but he puts the program at the forefront and himself in the background. He's a very modest guy, and I respect him a great deal."
According to Catonsville Lacrosse Club President Greg Gentner, the girls lacrosse program boasts 462 participants, although Kreis' softball organization continues to chip away at the old American Indian game's advantage.
Kreis' passion for diamond sports started with years of playing in the Catonsville Rec baseball program and then at Mount St. Joseph in the now-defunct Maryland Scholastic Association.
After that, Kreis played slow-pitch softball on teams sponsored by local bars and restaurants, such as G.L. Shack's and Morseberger's.
When his daughters became age-appropriate for Catonsville Rec softball, Kreis became more involved in the program until he eventually succeeded Larry and Debbie Dobrovolny as commissioner.
Kreis said they did a good job of "laying the foundation" for a flourishing program.
Of course, much of the current success is because of his above-and-beyond efforts.
"You have to be proactive," McDevitt said. "You need someone out there reaching out to the community and pushing to get good people into the organization."