Hartford Little League Joins Major League Baseball Program
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
February 19, 2013
HARTFORD —— One of the city's youth leagues is now affiliated with Major League Baseball's Reviving Baseball In Inner Cities program, a partnership that local officials hope will bring stability and resources to baseball in Hartford.
The Mayor Mike Peters Little League, which draws about 400 players in the city's South End, was accepted as an affiliate member last month, said David McKinley, the league's president.
One of Hartford's first benefits played out Monday night at Baseball City on Murphy Road, a private, indoor facility where the University of Hartford baseball team led a clinic for about three dozen boys. The RBI initiative, founded in 1989 to promote baseball among urban youth, offers regional tournaments and grants that leagues can use for equipment and instruction.
But McKinley and Craig Mergins, Hartford's parks and recreation commissioner, said the affiliation also offers another kind of boost.
"Professionalism," Mergins said Monday, as the Mayor Mike league players took turns hitting off tees to hone their swing.
"Stature, credibility ... and the exposure to help attract some of the resources," said McKinley, who has been speaking with ESPN and coaches at the University of Hartford, Trinity College and the minor-league New Britain Rock Cats about helping Hartford baseball.
The Rock Cats have already offered their stadium as a host for Mayor Mike senior league playoff games, which feature 13- to 16-year-olds.
And Trinity College, for a low rate, will allow Hartford's American Legion team to use its baseball field. Last year, the team of 17- to 19-year-olds couldn't play any home games in Hartford because there are no city baseball fields of good-enough quality to host that advanced level of play, McKinley said.
A common sentiment among youth coaches is that resources have not matched the city's baseball talent. There is not a single batting cage, for example, at any of the public fields in Hartford, Mergins said. McKinley and others are now trying to raise $12,000 to build a batting cage at Hyland Park.
Hartford youth baseball leagues have charged players anywhere from $20 to $50 to participate, a token amount compared to suburban leagues' $100 to $150 fees. "We rely pretty heavily on some of our team sponsors," McKinley said, such as the teachers' and firefighters' unions, just to fund the league's operating costs.
Aside from the Mayor Mike league, there is the Rago-Coco Little League in the West End that plays during the spring at Elizabeth Park, and the Northend Little League at Waverly Field that runs through August.
The Roberto Clemente Baseball League has also been popular among Hartford families for its summer season but, according to Mergins, is unlikely to be operational this year because of previous financial mismanagement.
After more than $30,000 was believed to be missing from league funds in 2011, an extensive police investigation into the league's finances discovered poor accounting practices but insufficient evidence that any state laws were broken, Hartford police Lt. Brian Foley said Tuesday.
That case was closed but the Roberto Clemente league has struggled to survive.
Mergins noted the problem of childhood obesity and a need to steer students away from bad influences on the streets. "The important message here is that we continue to offer [baseball] to get as many kids as possible involved," he said. "These kids have so much talent and so much enthusiasm."
Nearby, Maria Rodriguez took photos of her son Nicholas Ocasio, a Mayor Mike all-star and Burr Elementary School fifth-grader, as he waited for his turn at the hitting tee. A contingent of Latino families watched the clinic Monday night.
"Eleven years old and he already tells everybody that he's going to college, that he's going to get a scholarship for baseball," Rodriguez said. "He's going to go all the way."
Those interesting in making a donation for the Hyland Park batting cage may contact David McKinley at 860-712-7199.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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