Fields repaired for youth league - Catholic Courier

Fields repaired for youth league

ROCHESTER — If you build it, they will come, actor Kevin Costner said in the well-
known baseball film “Field of Dreams.”

That’s what organizers and volunteers are counting on as they pursue their own
dream project of renovating three baseball diamonds at Baden Park, located at the corner
of Upper Falls Boulevard and Hudson Avenue, next door to School No. 6. The fields will
be used next year by the Rochester Hispanic Youth Baseball League, and organizers hope
the new fields will increase participation from city children and parents.

“This is like a miracle,” said Aida Figueroa — a grandmother who volunteers with the
league along with her husband, Luciano — on Sept. 20 as she pointed with pride to the
nearly 130 workers painting, raking and digging throughout the fields. “It’s a dream come
true for the kids.”

Figueroa — whose 13-year-old grandson Luciano “Yoko” Figueroa plays in the youth
league — said she has lived in nearby city neighborhoods her whole life and is thrilled
beyond words to see so many people willing to help make the city a better place for
children. And it benefits the children just to see so many adults invested in their futures
and offer the kind of positive role modeling that will help make the city a better place to
live, she added.

“They see kids on TV and wish and hope they could have a park like this,” Figueroa
said. “It’s wonderful. I hope we can do more parks like this all over the city.”

With a $30,000 grant from The Home Depot’s corporate office to purchase the
necessary tools, paint, topsoil, sod and prefabricated dugouts, volunteers from throughout
the area — including members of RochesterCares and the University of Rochester —
created new pitching mounds and bull pens, and set up bleachers Sept. 20. Workers
prepared the fields over several days prior to the start of that day’s work, said Eugenio
Cotto Jr., who helped organize the project for the league. The City of Rochester provided
another $5,000 for the project, according to Cotto, founder and current board member of
the Hispanic baseball league.

“Esto esta tremendo,” Cotto said. “It’s overwhelming.”

Ahmad Rivazfar, manager of the Jefferson Road Home Depot and a leader for the
project, said that the renovations were part of RochesterCares’ Hands on Network’s
national Corporate Month of Service. The Home Depot also has participated in several
other city projects to rehabilitate homes and build playgrounds, he added.

“We don’t operate our business in isolation,” he said. “It takes a village to raise
children. We want crime to go away? Get kids involved in sports so they have something
to look forward to, are choosing to do something positive.”

The project took off early this summer when a representative from KaBOOM! — a
national organization dedicated to creating “a great place to play within walking distance
of every child in America” — contacted Cotto about another project he is working on at
Don Samuel Torres Park, which is located at School No. 20 on Oakman Street.
KaBOOM! representatives suggested the Upper Falls fields renovation for the 16-team
league and told Cotto to apply. Not long after, Cotto received confirmation that the
project was moving forward.

“The field is going to look great,” said Cotto, who works for the Group 14621
association, which advocates for housing, employment and recreational opportunities for
residents of the 14621 ZIP code. “We’re doing something in a matter of months that
usually takes … one to two years, by the time you’d get all the paperwork in the
system.”

According to its Web site at www.kaboom.org, KaBOOM! was founded in
1996 with support from The Home Depot and Kimberly-Clark. The organization began
its “Let Us Play” campaign a year later to provide resources to develop or renovate 1,000
community-built playgrounds by the end of 2000.

After completing that goal, the group in 2005 announced another community
initiative to create or refurbish 1,000 play areas in 1,000 towns or cities across North
America. With $25 million in financial support from The Home Depot and nearly 1
million volunteers, the project is expected to benefit 1.5 million parents and children.
KaBOOM! project manager Whitney Hampton said the Rochester endeavor brings the
total of projects completed by the organization to more than 600.

“We chose the league because here was a group that was really excited,” Hampton
said. “A lot of kids use these fields. And they had to do a lot of work to prepare the fields.
And this group was willing to do that.”

Angel Alicea, one of the coordinators of the Hispanic baseball league, said that
willingness to work hard comes from the realization that improving the fields helps
improve the entire community for the children. He observed that the renovation project
might also encourage more teams from throughout Monroe County to want to play in the
city.

“Playing in a better ball park helps kids develop better skills,” he said. “This is going
to bring more kids here.”

University of Rochester baseball coach Joe Reina said his players came to help
renovate the field as part of the team’s credo to help the community whenever possible.
But their work won’t stop there. Team members also hope to bring the league members
and coaches to the university during the winter and offer tips on practice drills.

“It’s a great cause,” Reina noted. “The work they’re doing is unbelievable.”

UR Senior Gabriel Chodak said the renovation offered a great opportunity to get off
campus and do something worthwhile.

“It’s a human connection between two very different groups,” he said. “It’ll have a
positive effect for Rochester Hispanic baseball and us as well.”

To indicate the impact a project like this has on a community, Cotto cited Hank
Aaron’s comments about the growing number of children in America not playing baseball
due to the deplorable field conditions found in urban areas throughout the country.

A baseball field in such poor shape is “just a place to run around in circles,” Cotto
added. “But when you have well-maintained fields, good seating arrangements for fans
and parents, the actual feeling is people take pride in what they have and take more care
of it and actually want to participate.”

The league’s premise is built upon the notion that when adults take an active role in
children’s lives, the children will not be led astray by violent or criminal elements that
continue to plague inner-city neighborhoods, Cotto said.

“The bottom line is that the whole reason RHYBL exists is to save lives,” he added.
“We want to change thinking, change behaviors and see something better in the future for
our youth.”

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