ROCHESTER — Any sports league that can garner nearly 250 young players within a small geographic range is obviously a valued commodity. Yet those numbers alone don’t capture the full scope of this success story on the city’s northeast side.
Attend just about any practice or game involving the Rochester Hispanic Youth Baseball League (RHYBL), and you’ll find large groups of adults as well as kids. Many are there as eager supporters of their children. Others, like Jaime Basco, serve as volunteers. Basco coaches two teams and also coordinates RHYBL’s age 11-12 division.
In fact, a recent practice drew 100 people and only about half were players, Basco recalled. Later that week, “I got 20 calls: ‘When’s the next practice, when’s the next practice?’” he said.
RHYBL’s 2006 season was scheduled to kick off June 3 with an opening parade and ceremonies at Don Samuel Torres Park, located at City School No. 20 on Oakman Street. The season runs through early August before finishing up with playoffs. Games are played once or twice a week, and some RHYBL teams also travel to other parts of Monroe County for tournaments.
According to officials, the league’s participation level has just about doubled since its inception a decade ago; this year’s enrollment total is 240 boys and girls ages 4 to 19. The 16-team league includes a brand-new T-ball component so that children ages 4 to 6 also can participate.
RHYBL was founded in 1995 by Eugenio Cotto, who served as president until last year and is still active on the board. Cotto’s original idea was to divert young people from the dangers of the streets — “to party in a drug-free, alcohol-free environment,” said Angela Sackett, a RHYBL board member. The concept caught on so well that a league for all interested Hispanic youths was implemented in 1996.
Sackett said the boom of Latinos in the major leagues has made a local impact, with RHYBL youths displaying high interest in trading cards, caps and T-shirts of their favorite teams and players. Whereas an earlier generation emulated Roberto Clemente, the late Pittsburgh Pirates great of the 1960s and 1970s, today’s youngsters have numerous Latino stars to follow, such as David Ortiz, Pedro Martinez, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Ivan Rodriguez and Miguel Tejada.
Sackett said emulating successful athletes serves as a motivator for staying out of trouble. Some young RHYBL members may even someday become college scholarship players; Basco noted that he earned a volleyball scholarship in his native Puerto Rico.
League officials also believe that a strong commitment to baseball will lead to a better work ethic in school. The league’s emphasis on education is reflected in its logo, which depicts a graduation cap perched atop the RHYBL initials.
Though the great majority of players are Hispanic, RHYBL is open to all Rochester youths. Participants must have parental approval and adhere to league rules, which promote a wholesome atmosphere by banning use of alcohol, drugs and foul language at practices and games. The league is a healthy diversion for adults, as well, who must abide by the same rules as the players.
“A lot are single parents, a lot are working more than one job,” said Al Burgos, first-year league president.
Several public and private entities help fund RHYBL through grants and sponsorships, covering such expenses as equipment, insurance, field rental and banquets. This helps hold down the entry fee for participants, many of whom come from low-income families. RHYBL is currently looking to obtain funding for a major renovation to Torres Park, one of several city fields the league uses.
Burgos, who operates an income-tax service, said he first became involved with RHYBL as a sponsor and found his commitment deepening as he realized the league’s value.
“This is right in our Hispanic community, something they could call their own,” Burgos said. “I think it’s important for the community. It’s a small thing, but a significant thing — a good thing.”