This is due as much to the weather challenges posed by life in the Northeast as it is to a gradual fall from prominence over the years with regard to baseball culture here in the metro area.
Thankfully, there are organizations like the Greater New York Sandlot Athletic Alliance (GNYSAA) devoting their time and resources to reviving and sustaining that baseball culture and to leveling the playing field, so to speak, for area ballplayers by providing them with a wider variety of competitive opportunities and experienced coaches to guide them, as well as equipment and other resources.
The goal: to enable student-athletes to carve out a path for themselves that includes a college scholarship to play baseball and a professional career in the game for as long as it can carry them.
Through member organizations like Diamond Pros, Hollis Bellaire Queens Village Bellerose Athletic Association, Kings County American Legion, Long Island Baseball Association, and the Queens Kiwanis Sports Association, just to name a few, the GNYSAA currently serves over 25,000 young people ages 6-18 in the New York City metropolitan area through the games of baseball and softball.
You’ll probably recognize a great many of the names of ballplayers who’ve benefited from the tutelage of the GNYSAA over the years, players who’ve also made it a point to come back and share their experiences with those hoping to follow them. Kids like Matt Rizzotti, Mike Baxter, James Jones, Dellin Betances, and more.
On Thursday, January 22, the GNYSAA celebrated its storied tradition, 75 years in the making, with its 10th Annual Raymond F. Church Service to Youth Baseball Awards Dinner at Russo’s On the Bay in Howard Beach.
This year’s dinner honored former CYO Director Lenny Bishop; Senior Director of the RBI program David L. James; and former NY Mets Director of Community Outreach Jill Knee. MLB’s Vice President of Community Affairs Thomas Brasuell is the evening’s Special Guest Honoree.
In addition, the organization awarded a number of college scholarships to several deserving high school seniors.
The scholarships are one of the most important things the organization does, notes GNYSAA President Vic Feld, who’s hoping to expand the program even more so that more student-athletes can benefit.
As Feld points out, the criteria for selection extend far beyond the baseball diamond.
“First, we take a look at the academics,” Feld says. “Grades, SAT’s, attendance. Each kid has to submit three recommendations. He also has to write an essay [describing] what he wants to achieve in college, what he wants to major in. We also try to factor in community involvement, community service. It’s really difficult to pick, we’ve got some outstanding kids.”
Feld, who’s been at the helm of the organization for 35 of the organization’s 75 years now, has overseen sweeping changes to the GNYSAA’s outreach.
“He’s really made it more of a national organization,” says GNYSAA Vice-President Paul Busciolano. “In terms of college recruitment, more exposure, Vic’s taken it giant steps from where it was.”
In the spirit of providing more exposure, one of the hallmark experiences for GNYSAA ballplayers every summer is their annual trip to Cary, North Carolina, where they’re given the opportunity to compete with squads from USA Baseball on state-of-the-art ballfields, all under the watchful gaze of some of the most important college coaches and amateur baseball scouts in the country.
Ensuring that this initiative remains an annual opportunity for GNYSAA ballplayers is also one of the primary objectives of their annual fundraising dinner.
Feld is quick to deflect praise for the success during his tenure and instead re-directs that praise to the hundreds of coaches he credits with ushering in a new era of not just sustainability, but of growth.
“We’ve got great coaches. They teach baseball, they teach life skills, they teach discipline,” he said.
It’s the values and the commitment of the organization’s coaches – all of whom are volunteers, Feld points out – that have helped serve as the backbone for the organization.
“It’s a never-ending chain that just continues to grow,” he said. “That’s why the kids come back [to coach]. They know they’ve been part of something special.”
“We probably changed those kids’ lives,” says Busciolano. “People always ask me, ‘Why do you this? You’re not getting paid?’ Anyway, that’s my reward.”
For baseball fans of a certain age, the GNYSAA has as its roots some of the most treasured organizations in youth baseball in New York, as well as some of its most renowned advocates.
Most notable among these are sportswriter Max Kase, founder of the Journal-American games; Frank Tempone, long-time executive director of the Long Island City YMCA; and of course, the founder of the Dukes Baseball organization, Raymond F. Church, for whom the GNYSAA’s annual dinner is named.
At its heart, though, what the GNYSAA’s annual gathering is truly all about is not the organization’s storied history, but more so the celebration of exemplary student-athletes looking to create some history of their own.
To learn more about how to support the GNYSAA, or to attend the GNYSAA annual dinner, please contact Thomas Sylvester at (347) 463-3602 or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.