Salem and Beverly might be century-old rivals on the football field, but the neighboring communities are planning to team up on the baseball diamond.
Due to the declining number of teenagers playing baseball, the Beverly and Salem Babe Ruth leagues decided on Monday to join forces starting next summer.
Organizers said the merger is necessary to ensure the survival of the two programs, which date back more than 30 years.
“I think it’s one of those things whose time has come,” Salem Babe Ruth League president Tom Crane said.
The number of players ages 13 to 15 has dropped by about half in the last few years in both organizations, down to about 80 each last summer, organizers said. Beverly had six teams in its 13- to 15-year-old league while Salem had five.
Crane and his counterpart in Beverly, Bill Brewer, attribute the decline to a variety of factors. Kids have many more activities available to them. Young athletes are encouraged to specialize at an early age and play one sport year-round. And the pace of baseball is too slow for some kids in the age of video games.
“There’s just so many things for kids to do and baseball is not high on the priority list for a lot of them,” Brewer said.
Crane said the league has become so small in Salem that teams end up playing against the same teams several times per season, detracting from the excitement of facing different competition.
“Baseball maybe doesn’t have a spot in the hierarchy that it used to,” Crane said. “It becomes somewhat of a downward spiral. You’re playing the same teams, it’s not as much fun, and kids drop out.”
Brewer said the merger between Beverly and Salem could be the start of a trend of communities combining forces to keep their town baseball programs alive. The Peabody and Danvers Babe Ruth programs began scheduling games against each other last year. In hockey, Salem and Swampscott combined their youth programs years ago.