Little League baseball in Schenectady County will have a bit of a different look in 2014.
Originally formed in 1950, Little League baseball in Schenectady grew quickly over the next decade to include three other separate leagues within the city — Northside, JC and Bellevue. In 2008, JC and Bellevue were dealing with low numbers and decided to merge with Schenectady Little League, and now this spring Northside is joining the fold, bringing the city’s entire population of players under one governing body.
“Everyone’s numbers are low, so we’re going to have one citywide group and call it Schenectady Little League,” said Sara Siddons, who was president of the JC-Schenectady-Bellevue group and will now serve as co-president of the new league, along with Northside president Ryan Pezzano. “We want to keep our youth off the street and encourage them to get involved in athletics. We’re going to continue to use the three fields, Northside, Michigan Ave. and Oregon Ave., and Bellevue will be a practice field.”
Consolidation is also happening in the town of Rotterdam, where Rotterdam and Carman Little League announced in November 2013 that they would also merge for the 2014 season. The new group is calling itself the RC Little League.
“I think because the competition between Carman and Rotterdam was so high; we’re kind of rivals, some people were opposed to the merger,” said Bob Carter, president of RC Little League. “But I think most people can see the big picture and they realize it’s the right thing to do. All of the kids in town now are going to play in the same league, and people are starting to embrace that idea.”
Both Schenectady and RC are part of District 12 of the state Little League association, which includes teams from the Schenectady area and those as far west as St. Johnsville and Middleburgh and as far north as Gloversville and Galway. Other leagues making up District 12 include Broadalbin-Perth, Canajoharie, Cobleskill, Duanesburg, Richmondville, Fonda-Fultonville, Fort Plain, Galway, Johnstown, Northville, Schoharie, Scotia-Glenville and Saratoga. Charlie Fitzpatrick of Duanesburg is the District 12 commissioner.
“There’s too much competition these days,” said Fitzpatrick, explaining the mergers, which he says are not unique to Schenectady County. “Kids today are playing soccer, lacrosse, softball, they’re sitting at their computers. You can only spread the kids so far, and I expect we will see a few other leagues merge soon.”
Registration for Schenectady Little League will be held March 15 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Boulevard Bowl. The cost ranges from $75 to $175 depending on the number of players from one family. RC, which has completed its registration period, charges $125 for one child and $105 for the second member of a family.
“We’ve held the price down pretty well,” said Carter, “and we also hand out raffle tickets that parents can sell and save some money. I’ve been involved for about five years and the price really hasn’t gone up that much.”
Most Little Leagues are divided into two or three age groups ranging from 9 to 12, while even younger children have the opportunity to play T-ball or participate in an instructional league. Last year, Schenectady had just 45 players competing at the top level, while Northside managed to field just two “major” teams consisting of 24 players.
“Having only 24 players makes it very challenging,” said Pezzano. “It’s tough to have a fruitful season. Your local team becomes a travel team. We went to Broadalbin, Duanesburg and Berne last year just to get games for our kids.”
Pezzano said that initially there was some resistance to merging with Schenectady.
“We had some board members that were pretty adamant against it, and I grew up and played at Northside so it wasn’t an easy decision for me,” he said. “But the way the numbers were dropping, I think we all eventually realized that this was something we had to do.”
Little League baseball began in Williamsport, Pa., in 1939, and held its first World Series in 1947. In 1953, Schenectady Little League made the World Series, but lost in the finals of the event. They returned a year later in 1954 and, behind Jim Barbieri, Billy Connors, Joey Loudis, Ernie Lotano and Bill Masucci, won the championship. Barbieri and Connors went on to play in the Major Leagues, and Schenectady Little League reached the World Series again in 1959, finishing third.
Tony Buonome’s father, Lindy Buonome, was one of the organizers of the Schenectady Little League and a coach of the 1954 team that won the World Series in Williamsport.
“We had six teams that first year,” said Tony Buonome, rattling off the sponsor names — Hershey’s, Mica’s, Veterans, Western Gateway Roofing, Oldtimers Baseball Club and GEAA — from the 1950 season. “Then we formed Northside, I think two years later, but guys like Barbieri, Masucci and Connors, who all lived in the Northside area, continued to play with Schenectady because that’s where they had started. When Schenectady played at Northside, Barbieri could look over the left field fence and see his house.”
Officials are hoping that consolidating the city’s Little Leagues will help spark a Schenectady return to the glory days of the 1950s.
“We’re celebrating the 75th anniversary of Little League and the 60th anniversary of Schenectady winning the World Series,” said Siddons. “We want to bring attention to that, we want to make some upgrades to the field at Michigan Avenue, and we’re always looking for solid volunteers and more sponsors to help us out financially. We’re a non-profit so everything we make goes to the kids.”
“This is a special year and we want to have some fun with the anniversaries and create more baseball opportunities for our kids,” said Pezzano. “We want to generate some more excitement about Little League throughout the city.”
Rotterdam Little League was also created in 1950, and Carman was formed from that group just a few years later. In 1977, Carman LL was one of eight teams playing in the World Series in Williamsport against international competition. Representatives of US-East, Carman won its first round game but lost in the semifinals.
Carman players who graduated from Little League moved on to the Rotterdam Babe Ruth League, and three years later, in 1980, it was players from that 1977 Carman team, including Joe Ziobrowski, Tom Franceski and Joe Milazzo, who helped Rotterdam Babe Ruth and standout pitcher/shortstop Randy Strijek claim the Babe Ruth World Series title in Williston, N.D.