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Norcross teams filling summer need for local baseball players

It's not going to happen overnight. Or over many nights for that matter. But one day, maybe years from now, Marty Kelly is hoping it can compete with the Cape Cod League in New England.

The Stan Musial Baseball League in Atlanta has been around since the 1970s, giving former local players a chance to go up against quality competition throughout the summer.

Some are current college players and some are former minor leaguers looking for a place to play.

Kelly, who is the owner/coach of the Norcross Astros, thinks the former is where the future of the Stan Musial League lies.

"What we're trying to do is change the dynamic of the league a little bit," he said. "The NCAA really wants college kids to play with other college kids. They don't like them playing in older leagues.

"So we're trying to make it more of a college-type league and Atlanta is such a hotbed for talent right now."

Kelly coached his son Chris in the East Cobb Baseball League for a number of years, and when Chris and his former teammates went off to college many of them were looking for a place to play over the summer.

"I had kids saying, 'Do you know a local place where I can play baseball this summer? Because they want to send me to Michigan to play,'" Kelly said.

So the former Collins Hill rec coach decided last May to sponsor his own team in the SMBL. It was obviously quite a hit.

"This year I had over 50 kids call that had heard about the team and the league and wondered if they could play," Kelly said. "So I put two teams together this year."

Right now the Cape Cod League is the preeminent summer baseball league in the country. It has the most Division I players, the most future first-round draft picks, the most scouts, the most fanfare.

But Kelly thinks in time, if the league is sanctioned by the NCAA, the SMBL could rival the more famous summer league up the coast.

"A lot of it depends on what kind of participation we can get," he said. "What kind of sponsorships and cooperation we can get from other baseball leagues, like the East Cobb program.

"Cape Cod is obviously the model for summer league baseball. Do we want to rival them? Of course, but it takes time. It might be four or five years before we are playing that competitively."

But he does see it as a possibility.

"What we have going for us down here is that most of the kids are from this area, they're from the south," Kelly said. "And our weather should be a bit better. The biggest thing is location, location, location. The kids get to stay home."

And many of the kids are from Gwinnett County. Along with Kevin Meistickle's Atlanta Cracker team, Kelly's two squads are littered with local players, like Norcross' Cory Harmon, GAC's Michael Handley and Brookwood's Kevin Bulger. The teams play all of their home games at Norcross High School.