A few hundred pounds of sod, an infield’s worth of dirt and a significant commitment of time and money from the Tri-City ValleyCats resulted in the transformation of four Capital Region youth baseball fields on Friday.
In order to celebrate their 10-year anniversary, the ValleyCats decided to expand their field renovation efforts that began in 2003. This year they embarked on the “4 in 24” program, with the goal of renovating fields for the Ballston Spa Jr. Baseball League, the Northside Little League in Schenectady, the Scotia-Glenville Little League and the Westland Hills league in Albany within 24 hours.
Chosen among 40 applicants, these four leagues were determined to be the most worthy. They all had fields that were in deteriorating or poor condition and were lacking funds to make all the necessary improvements.
The effort by the ValleyCats began at 5 a.m., with two crews starting in Albany and Ballston Spa, before moving on to Schenectady and Scotia in the afternoon. This effort was also being supported by Friendly’s, Price Chopper, CDTA and the Brickman Group.
For the Northside Little League, the renovations to their field for kids ages 8 to 12 years old couldn’t come soon enough, according to league President Tony Derenzo. He noted that their infield grass was uneven, the dirt was subpar, the pitcher’s mound was off center and the right-handed batter’s box would deteriorate during the season. “Every year it goes down an inch or two,” Derenzo said.
Derenzo beamed on Friday afternoon as he watched the removal of the old infield grass, which was going to be transplanted onto the field used by younger kids.
While this was being done, volunteers from the league were also working on fixing the dangerous bleachers. “We took all the old wood out and we’re putting new wood in,” Derenzo said.
Derenzo feels like the changes to the field will generate a better quality of play, especially around the first base area, which was slightly elevated before. He said his youngest son, who is in his fourth year on the field, is looking forward to not running uphill anymore to chase foul balls.
“We’re very happy. Hopefully we’ll end up having a district tournament here,” Derenzo said. “It’s going to be very good for the kids.”
One of those kids is 10-year-old Angelo Serafini, of Schenectady, who is right handed and said he looks forward to hitting from an even batter’s box.
Over in Scotia, work on the minor division field was delayed because of some problems in Albany, but volunteers remained optimistic and announced that they were prepared to work late into the night.
Todd Carusone, a Scotia resident and the father of two little leaguers, had applied for the ValleyCat renovation last year, but came up short after making the final list of applicants. With the expanded field this year he felt they had a better chance of being selected and Carusone said it was important for the field to receive a little work.
Carusone said the improvements to the “wobbly” field included new sod for the infield, an outfield fence, a scoreboard and some new infield dirt. The outfield fence is a first for the minors’ field.
Joe Gatta, the league president, said that kids playing on this field will finally get to experience a real ballpark, which they could only do in the past when they moved to the major division’s field.
“We’ve always wanted to give the minors the same feeling as if they were playing on the majors field,” he said. “Kids react a little different when they get into a ballpark atmosphere.”
Echoing the sentiments of Derenzo, Gatta said he hopes that the upgraded field will attract and retain more players. “The key thing is keeping them interested and keeping them through the program,” he said.
According to a press release from the ValleyCats, the four leagues will begin play on April 25 and have their opening ceremonies on April 30. The ValleyCats begin their defense of last year’s New York-Penn League title on June 17.
A spokesman for the ValleyCats confirmed they will continue their renovation efforts next year, but probably on a smaller scale than this year.