Each spring, Schenectady High School softball coach Kristy Mazzariello attends tryouts for the district’s modified team, made up of seventh- and eighth-graders. Each spring, she shakes her head and laughs, even though it’s also a bit sad.
There are kids who don’t know what a batting stance is or where their hands should go. Forget about knowing what a cutoff man is; knowing first base is the first base is a starting point.
“Some of them don’t know how to put a glove on,” Mazzariello said. “It’s killing our program. They come to us, and we are teaching basic fundamentals kids should have already known.”
It’s not a matter of a lack of players or athletes. Rather, it’s a lack of experience.
“I just don’t think they are exposed to it,” the coach said.
It’s going to get worse.
This season, as youth baseball in Schenectady is in full swing, the city’s youth softball players find themselves benched, with no league to play in.
The disappearance of youth softball is a by-product — albeit not the direct result — of the consolidation of the various Little Leagues in the city. Northside Little League, which merged into Schenectady Little League this past offseason, had run the softball league in the city. But when the leagues merged, the person running softball (who had no kids playing) stepped aside, no one stepped up to the plate to replace her and youth softball in Schenectady went dark.
“That’s a big loss for getting girls involved in softball,” Schenectady City School District athletic director Steven Boynton said. “We are seeing it not just in softball; there are very few feeder programs for girls sports.”
The softball league had struggled with numbers the past couple of years; it only generated enough interest in 2013 to field one 12-and-under team and one 10-and-under team.
“We were down to a program last year that was barely able to sustain itself,” said Ryan Pezzano, who was president of Northside and is now co-president of Schenectady Little League and whose daughter is playing on a Niskayuna travel softball team.
Those in charge of Schenectady Little League said the consolidation of baseball leagues has consumed their time, but they would be willing to assist in the re-formation of a softball league. Mazzariello, who yearns for a youth feeder system like other varsity programs enjoy, made the same offer. Chris Marotta, who ran the softball league for years, said she would offer assistance.
“I feel girls get pushed aside with a lot of sports,” she said.
The adults said that with enough promotion, and the identification of playing fields — Schenectady’s various levels of scholastic softball all share one field — there could be enough kids to play. The hard part, they said, is finding parents willing to make a commitment to get a league running and keep it viable.
“We need to develop a softball program,” said Schenectady Little League co-president Sara Siddons. “You need an entirely separate board.
“We need parents to step up. I’m sure if we could get it up and running, it would take off.”
The kids are not the issue, these youth sports officials said.
“The parental commitment is low in the city,” Pezzano said. “It has to start with the parents.”
Karl LaFountain, vice president of Schenectady Little League, opened a storage room at Northside one recent night to find a cache of softball equipment gathering dust. It made him think of his daughter, who has played junior varsity and varsity for Schenectady High this season as an eighth-grader, but has no in-city rec team, let alone travel team, to play on. He worries about the girls not having an opportunity to play and what this lack of exposure to the game will mean to the high school team down the road.
“Where are they going to find that next pitcher?” he asks. “There is no feeder program. Why isn’t anyone running this program?”
It starts with the parents, he added, echoing Pezzano. Until then, it’s game called.