Schenectady Little League went to bat on Thursday, holding its first practice in anticipation of opening day of the 2020 season next Monday.
The kids did so after the greater baseball community went to bat for them.
In the wake of two vandalism sprees that trashed the Little League’s facilities in March, Alex Jurczynski, currently an assistant coach at Princeton who played for Schenectady from T-ball to Babe Ruth, organized an equipment donation drive to give the league some kind of boost.
He got such an overwhelming response that it took him three hours on Wednesday just to get all the used bats, balls, uniforms, helmets and catcher’s gear stocked up in an orderly fashion for presentation to the league on Thursday.
As disheartening as the damage targeting the facilities in March was, Jurczynski said the response from donors as nearby as the Schenectady Ole Timers Baseball Club and as far away as Florida and California reinforced his belief of how much positive impact Little League can have on kids and how important it is to the community as a whole.
“Those are the experiences that you live off of,” he said. “For a Little Leaguer, they probably don’t know what really happened with the vandalization. It doesn’t really click for them, but then they see all this equipment being donated, it’s a positive in their life, and ‘OK, maybe when I get older, I’ll be able to do something like this and help someone who’s in need.’
“I wanted to turn a negative situation into a positive one. People are cleaning out their garages, so I assumed I was going to get a lot of garbage, but I ended up getting more equipment that’s in better shape than I thought.”
He estimated that he’s got about 1,000 pieces, of which 200-300 are baseballs.
That doesn’t include some gear that wasn’t in good condition or catcher’s chest protectors that aren’t up to current design requirements.
“Seventy-five to 100 helmets. Catcher’s gear, it’s a lot of mismatched stuff, probably 30 sets of shin guards, 15-20 catcher’s helmets and probably 50 chest protectors,” Jurczynski said. “At least 150 bats, maybe 200. I’ve got eight bins of brand-new baseball pants, all smalls and mediums for the Little Leaguers, with probably 20 pairs of pants in each bin.
“There’s probably a few other things in there that I might’ve missed, but it’s funny, I had some donors from all over the country, because I put it on Twitter. I had a ton of people reach out to me. North Colonie Babe Ruth donated a ton of stuff. It was a very rewarding experience.”
The effort stands in stark contrast to the events that spurred the donation drive.
Vandals broke into the upstairs window of the clubhouse at the Oregon Avenue ballpark in March and destroyed memorabilia and files and spray-painted graffiti on the walls.
They also damaged cabinets and sports equipment, and did not spare the concession area, where candy and sunflower seeds were scattered around, the cash register was removed the trophy case was destroyed.
In a second break-in later that week, vandals damaged freezers, food and the PA system.
“It was terrible,” Jurczynski said. “When you go on your phone, with everything else going on in the world, that’s the last thing I want to see. The fact that somebody did that to the facility, and the kids have to deal with it, and at the end of the day, it was at the start of the coronavirus, so I was thinking not everyone’s going to have money, everyone’s going to get laid off from their jobs. So what can I do?
“Having this happen to your hometown Little League, somebody breaking in, it irritates you. When you see something like that happen, especially with everything else going on today, it’s just like, why? What makes your life so difficult that you have to make everyone else’s life difficult at the Little League?”
The flood of equipment will make life much less difficult for the Little Leaguers, who learned in mid-June that they would be able to play ball this summer.
“I expected to get, like, 20 gloves, a few helmets, a few bats,” Jurczynski said.
“I’m just happy it turned out the way it did. These people are volunteering their time to give these kids an experience that, when I played, I had a great experience. I learned. Through trial and error, I became a better person, through playing with certain kids and certain coaches. There are coaches that I still keep in touch with today.”