By FRED KRONER
Robert Redford was once cast as the main character in a baseball movie, The Natural.
Mahomet’s Scott Day doesn’t need any acting credits for his role.
He was indeed, The Natural.
In 2002 — prior to the advent of travel baseball in Mahomet — Little League teams finished their schedules, some players were fortunate enough to play a few games with an all-star team, and then baseball season was over until the next year.
“Some parents approached me,” Day said, “and wanted to play further.”
His oldest son, Luke, was 12 years old at the time and was gung-ho about more games.
A former four-sport athlete at Gibson City in the 1970s, Scott Day was up for the challenge. He organized a group and got the pre-teens entered in tournaments in Bloomington and Danville during the summer of 2002.
By the following summer, the previous year’s 12-year-olds were too old for Little League and had few competitive options locally.
Scott Day took the nucleus — which included athletes such as Andrew Brewer, Nick Jachino, Jon McComb and Nick Pratten — and formed a 13-and-under travel team.
“I sent a paper to school, ‘Name the Team,’ “ Scott Day said. “They came up with Mahomet Diamond Dogs. It was mostly Mahomet kids.”
They played in a Sandy Koufax League in Rantoul as well as in a Champaign league organized by Don Flynn at Dodds Park.
The team stayed together in 2004, as a 14-and-under unit, and expanded its travel area, though Scott Day said. “No overnight stays. We didn’t go very far.”
The Diamond Dogs program continues to flourish and recently completed its 17th season of operation. Tryouts for the 2019 season will be held Saturday and Sunday at Taylor Field.
And Day’s coaching credits now not only include youth baseball, but also youth wrestling, travel basketball and the Central Illinois Youth Football League.
The makeup of the Diamond Dogs organization has evolved as it aged. Instead of just one team — that advanced to a new age level each summer — there are now separate teams for 9-and-under, 10-and-under, 11-and-under, 12-and-under, 13-and-under and 14-and-under.
“People saw the goodness of what can happen if we keep venturing on as a team,” Scott Day said. “You learn so much, and the transformation these kids make through sports helps them later in life.”
If there’s enough interest, the Diamond Dogs will also field an 8-and-under team in 2019.
“We stopped Diamond Dogs at 14-and-under,” Scott Day said. “As kids got into high school, there were so many (summer) conflicts with other sports.”
A few specific coaches have held their teams together, however, and played as 15-and-under and 16-and-under as part of the Diamond Dogs program.
Early on, the Diamond Dogs put limits on the number of games.
“We didn’t want to burn them out,” Scott Day said. “We set a limit, 9-and-under 40 games; 10-and-under 45 games and 11-and-under, 50 games.”
As Luke Day aged out of the organization, Scott Day’s 9-year-old son, Cully, was interested in travel baseball. Dad formed a 10-and-under team, with Brian Metzger and Rick Fredrickson helping to coach.
“Back then, I was the umpire coordinator, the field-establisher guy, the financial guy. I was overwhelmed,” Scott Day said.
Help arrived as the Diamond Dogs expanded.
When parent Tim Kenney suggested forming a 9-and-under team to compliment 10-and-under and 11-and-under teams, “he said, ‘Let’s turn this into a club,’ “ Scott Day said.
By 2008, a not-for-profit organization was formed with Day serving as the first — and thus far, only —president. He is joined on the board by five other individuals.
None currently have a child playing with the Diamond Dogs.
“When I first started, I took kids to 13 Acres Park and hardly anyone was playing,” Scott Day said. “I had a calling to do something about it.”
Scott Day is no longer the person responsible for all details.
The Board — all of whom are volunteers — includes Tim Kenney as treasurer, Kate Day as secretary, Mike Leathers as umpire coordinator, Mike VanAntwerp as chief fundraiser and Stephanie Kinney as webmaster. Leathers and VanAntwerp are co-vice-presidents.
Their roles are all critical, but Scott Day said his wife’s contributions are vital.
“She is the glue that holds the program together,” Scott Day said. “Organizations are hard to keep together if you don’t have that one person.
“She is way more organized than me. She has made a club out of this.”
Since its inception, Scott Day has guided four Diamond Dog teams to a World Series berth, including a 9-and-under team this year which placed fourth in Indianapolis.
Approximately 20 Diamond Dogs have gone on to play in college. Three former players have made it to
Division I universities for baseball: Cully Day (Belmont), Jack Rettig (Illinois State and Belmont) and Brooks Coetzee (Notre Dame).
“Some of the (20) kids never would have gone to college without baseball,” Scott Day said.
Scott Day has accompanied teams to Mississippi and Nebraska, but never lets the squad member forget about their roots in Champaign County.
“Community service projects are part of it,” he said. “We try to teach kids it’s not all about baseball.”
He has also made connections which enable the budding prospects to continue learning nuances of the game.
“Five years ago, we rented space in Champaign for an indoor facility,” Scott Day said.
Players start training in early January and continue workouts until games start in April.
Aiding in the winter instruction are players from Parkland College.
“They train our kids and coaches on the proper fundamentals,” Scott Day said.
Diamond Dogs squad members have come from surrounding communities such as Fisher, Monticello, Rantoul and St. Joseph-Ogden, but the overwhelming majority are from Mahomet.
Scott Day said the organization has received good support from administrators at both the high school and the Village of Mahomet.
“It’s the whole concept of a small town pulling together to make things work,” he said. “That’s why we try to cater to as many Mahomet kids on the teams as possible.”
His day job — the one that helps pay the bills — finds Scott Day working with his brother, Dan, in a business started by their father in 1961, Gibson City-based Day Drainage.
He is not seeking an exit route from his volunteer duties with the Diamond Dogs, but wouldn’t mind relinquishing the presidential duties.
“I would like to step down as President and let a younger guy take over,” Scott Day said. “I’d rather just coach.
“We’re here to serve others. I see these kids getting better and becoming confident in their abilities.”
For more information about this weekend’s tryouts for the 2019 season, email email@example.com or call 217-586-3549.
There is no charge to tryout, but those selected for a team will have a $350 participation fee.
Most of the Diamond Dogs teams are limited to 11 or 12 players.
”We’ve had as many as 26 try out,” Scott Day said.