­­­­­In spring 2012, the Lansing Reds legion baseball team expanded into a youth baseball program.
The program supported four teams that year playing in Single-A United States Specialty Sports Association leagues. Three seasons later, the four-team Reds have expanded into nine teams, supporting a team for every grade from kindergarten to seventh, with two fifth-grade teams.
And, the growth in quantity of players has also led to a growth in quality.
Of the nine teams, five ended this season with a first-place finish in their respective leagues, while two claimed second place.
Marcus Majure, executive officer of the Reds program, said the success starts with the commitment of players' families.
The Reds host annual tryouts in October and begin practice indoors in January. By April, the spring baseball season begins and doesn't stop until mid-July. Teams are coached primarily by players' fathers, grandfathers and uncles, and Majure said the program would not be able to grow and thrive without the support of families and the Lansing community.
"The thing about competitive baseball is it is a huge commitment in families," Majure said. "These parents are so committed to their children and the baseball."
The program's growth culminated in the seventh annual Jake Walkup Tribute Baseball game Saturday, which pits current Reds high school players against a wide range of former Lansing players.
Benefitting the Jake Walkup Scholarship fund, the event drew an estimated 250 players and fans and raised $1,100 that will go toward two scholarships for Lansing High School baseball players.
The alumni team featured former players of all ages. The oldest player, Majure said, was catcher Ed Herrera, who has a son entering his senior year at Lansing High School.
Majure said Herrera's age didn't show once he got behind the plate for the alumni team and caught former Lansing and University of Saint Mary pitcher Mark Spellman.
"He caught the hardest-throwing alumni that shows up every year, Mark Spellman," Majure said. "Spellman threw low 90s in college, and right now he throws probably mid-to-upper 80s."
The alumni notched a 10-9 victory against the current Reds, but Majure said the score of the game never plays a big role in the day's festivities.
"We just make it fun," Majure said. "At one time, the high school baseball players were up 6-3 and then we changed everybody around. ... We try to keep it as tight as we can keep it, within a one- or two-run lead."
The Tribute game marked the end of another baseball season for the Lansing Reds. As a third-year program, Majure said the community has yet to see the impact a strong youth program will have on Lansing High School's baseball team.
While the teams mainly consist of future Lansing Lions, the program also allows other area players the opportunity to try out.
Because of this, Majure said the whole goal of the program has shifted to a broader approach.
"We used to say we wanted to use it as a feeder to feed into Lansing High School," Majure said. "We realized that when we open this up to our surrounding communities that we're really helping feed all high schools."