By Jordan Vallone - LI Herald
In Bellmore-Merrick, youth baseball club Merrick Mayhem offers a town-oriented, travel team experience for local boys and girls who play baseball or softball. Started in 2019 by Brian Mann, Brendan Kalkau, Evan Tepper and Erik Bashian, what was once a small organization has quickly expanded into nine teams — one for softball and eight for baseball.
When Mayhem was founded, the first team was an 8-and-under squad. Having watched his sons and their friends play tee-ball and baseball for years, Mann said, discussions about forming a club had been going on for a while. Mann, who now runs the program with co-founder Kalkau, has three sons who play on Mayhem teams.
“We always had a lot of faith in the boys since they were young — I’m talking since they were 3 or 4 years old,” Mann said. “We thought it would be great if we could start a travel team and see what the kids could do.
“The year right before the pandemic, we were going to have three teams, and then the season got delayed,” he went on. “We had four teams in 2021, and there will be nine teams in 2022.” The original 8-and-under Mayhem team is now its oldest age group, 11-and-under. “Our idea is to build from the ground up,” Mann said of the Mayhem program. “The age groups are from 7u to 11u — we’re not going to create a team above the 11-year-olds.”
Although it has Merrick in its name, the club takes players from Bellmore, too, as well as other towns. “We are a huge supporter and financial sponsor of Bellmore-Merrick PAL,” Mann explained, referring to the Police Activity League. “. . . And because we’re a travel team, we do take kids from outside towns. If there’s 100 families involved, maybe four of them are from outside Bellmore-Merrick.”
What makes Mayhem unique is that kids in the community have the opportunity to play town-oriented travel baseball with lower costs than elite travel teams. The club holds annual tryouts in September and October, and this year, Mann said, “We were able to create multiple teams to play in different divisions.” As of last year, the organization as a whole had notched more than 100 wins and five championships for four teams. They compete in two Long Island travel leagues, East Coast Youth Baseball and Long Island Hot Stove Baseball. Games are played primarily on the island, though some tournaments take place in Maryland.
Although every team has had success, last year’s 10-and-under squad was most impressively, winning the East Coast championship in both the spring and fall seasons, as well as a summer tournament. “In the fall, they went from worst to first,” said Raquel Bodner, of Merrick, whose son, Zachary, played on the team.
Competing among East Coast’s 13 teams last fall, Mayhem had a rocky start before qualifying as the lowest seed in the playoffs. “Ten things had to happen for us to make playoffs,” said Mann, who manages the team with three coaches.
After a big 14-1 win against a team from Plainview, the 10u Mayhem team captured the East Coast championship, beating two squads from the Long Island Titans, one of the most elite youth baseball programs in New York. “It was a Cinderella story,” Mann said.
Since the program’s founding, Mayhem has become an integral part of the community — especially for all of the families involved.
“When the pandemic started, we had nothing to do,” Bodner said. “Baseball was like our therapy, because no one had anything else. [Mayhem] was such an amazing addition to our town.
“It is my son’s favorite thing in the universe,” she added. “There is nothing else that he loves more than this team. I think they’re only going to get better and better.”
Mayhem teams practice throughout the year, usually getting about an eight-week break after the fall season ends end before a winter training period starts. To keep program costs low, all of the coaches are volunteers. Professional trainers are hired only during the winter.
The club operates on a three-pillar philosophy: try hard, be a good sport and have fun. “We try to base everything around that,” Mann said. “We have a talented group of kids who are willing to work around those pillars. They’re committed to the team the same way the parents are.”
For more on the organization, go to merrickmayhem.com or the Mayhem Baseball Facebook page.