After a freezing cold winter, it almost seemed like baseball season would never arrive.
But as the calendar now shifts to April, baseball season is officially upon us – even if the weather hasn’t exactly been cooperating.
To ring in the 2015 campaign, the St. Kevin parish, Flushing, Youth Sports Guild held its fifth annual youth baseball clinic March 28 in the gymnasium of St. Kevin’s Catholic Academy.
Joining about 100 young athletes – from both the diocesan Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) and outside youth leagues – were two local Major League Baseball legends: former New York Mets infielder Ed Kranepool and former New York Yankees outfielder Roy White.
“At this age, kids are very impressionable, and the older players want to give back,” said John Bonanno, the clinic’s coordinator. “They want to show the kids what baseball really is about … having fun and having a good time.”
Plenty of fun was had at St. Kevin’s, as the former pros led the kids through drills in hitting, fielding and pitching.
“I love to work with young kids, especially those that are interested in baseball,” said Kranepool, an original 1962 Met who was a member of the Amazin’s World Series championship team in 1969. “You have to learn the fundamentals at an early age. As long as they enjoy themselves and have a good time, that’s the whole key. As long as they love the game, I’m going to be there to help them.”
After each session, the pros signed autographs and posed for photos with the kids. They were also sure to pass on their vast knowledge of their journey through America’s pastime.
“I mostly tell them that I started out just like they did,” said White, a two-time All-Star who played on the Yankees’ 1977 and 1978 World Series championship teams. “I was once 10, 11, 12 years old playing in Little League, watching Major League Baseball and wishing and hoping that I could be a major leaguer. I tell them the same thing can happen to them if they love it and want to put in the work and dedication because that’s what it takes.”
Once they got over being star struck, the wide-eyed youth players listened intently to what the former New York baseball stars had to say.
“I feel very privileged to be here,” said Michael Schwartz, a sixth-grader at St. Saviour Catholic Academy, Park Slope, who plays CYO baseball at Holy Name. “I think that this is going to help me because they can teach me what they learned in their years in the pros.”
The annual baseball clinic with the pros – sponsored by OnX Enterprise Solutions, Emerald Document Images, Hewlett Packard, Marcum Technologies, Premier Supplies, R&N Collision Works, Tir Na Nog Irish Bar and Grill, All Suffolk Paving & Masonry, Synergy Properties and Dealertrack Technologies – may be one of the highlights of St. Kevin’s sports calendar, but the dedicated efforts of the parish Youth Guild can be seen all throughout the year.
The guild serves nearly 400 children – both from the parochial academy and the parish’s religious education program. St. Kevin’s offers baseball, basketball, soccer, track and swimming as well as intramural clinics for the younger competitors. Boys and girls are given the opportunity to play whichever sport most piques their interest.
Basketball in particular has increased in popularity, as six teams from last year quickly turned into 14 teams this past winter season.
“With the Youth Guild, we look to bring in all the children of the parish and to teach them good sportsmanship and Catholic values,” said Steve Machalek, who along with his wife Ann Marie have served as the co-presidents of the Youth Guild for the past five years.
From each September to June, the parish’s sports program is in full swing. In addition to the baseball clinic, the Youth Guild also sponsors the parish’s picnic every summer.
“We appreciate all the good work done by the leaders of the Youth Guild,” said Auxiliary Bishop Ray Chappetto, pastor of St. Kevin’s. “They do a great job.”
It takes plenty of long hours to run the organization the right way, but Machalek said seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces as they engage in sports makes all the hard work totally worth it.
“It’s a labor of love to see the kids get so much out of it,” he said. “It’s a strong, vibrant community. We just have to keep stuff like this going for the kids.”
A great way to keep the kids coming back is to continue holding exciting events such as the baseball clinic. There couldn’t have been a better way to ring in the baseball season here in the Diocese of Brooklyn than to have two former greats interacting with local kids who hope to someday be in their shoes.
So once again, the St. Kevin’s Youth Guild really stepped up to plate and knocked a home run out of the park in creating memories for these kids that they won’t soon forget.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at email@example.com.