BONDS OF BASEBALL

by Bernadette Verzosa

 
        "Run, Henry, run," cheers the enthusiastic crowd, as they watch Henry Caputo drop his bat, and dash up the sideline while holding down an oversized helmet. On this crisp, spring day, the sky is a bright blue, the field is a bright green, and Henry's uniform is a very bright orange. He is four years old, and this is his first official
t-ball baseball game. Waiting to give him a high-five at first base was the assistant coach, his dad, Franklin Caputo.

     "It was wonderful seeing Henry have so much fun. It really brought joy to me as a father," he said. " It took me back to when I started playing baseball as a 7-year-old. I played through high school and helped my father coach my younger siblings' baseball teams." 

     Next up at bat is Henry's lifetime friend, 4-year-old Ian Goldstein.  "This is awesome. I want to come back and do it again," Ian said. His mother, Betsy Goldstein, organized this group of 11 boys and 2 girls. They were
assigned to become this season's Baltimore Orioles, one of 10 teams playing at the Trotter Family YMCA. His

 father, Gregg Goldstein, is head coach.
     "Coaching Ian and his friends is fantastic. At this age, you're just hoping that they get the concept that they're on a team, and having a good time," he said. "Other than that, outs don't matter, runs don't matter. Everyone gets to hit, everyone gets to field, and they're learning how to work together."

      Goldstein grew up an Astros fan, playing baseball at Chapelwood Church in Memorial. He has especially fond memories of his final season. "We were horrible, but we had a blast.  We were encouraged to play any position," he said. "Anyone who wanted to got to pitch a game or just a few innings.  We had multiple trick plays and best of all, some of the parents acted as assistant coaches."
      
Flexibility is part of what draws families to the YMCA. Its rules are geared towards enjoyment, and not competition. At the Trotter Family YMCA, there are 181 participants registered in the 3-5 year old age group. The t-ball league rules require that there is no score keeping, and that each player gets a turn at bat each inning. There are 204 participants in the 6-13 year old age group. The older teams can choose between Coach Pitch, Machine Pitch and Kid Pitch games.
 
The YMCA
    
The YMCA Houston has been hosting baseball games for more than a century. YMCA Historian Gary Nichols found a brochure from a game in 1896. "I suspect the baseball games started before then. The YMCA started as a program for young men 18-30. They were coming to Houston to make their fortune, and the Y provided dormitories, physical education, positive social activities, and even formal training for working skills."

     It was after World War Two, during the baby boom of the 1950s, that the YMCA Houston started youth and family activities. "The agenda is the development of the child. I measure the value of the program by how the kids are growing. Are they having fun and learning to play with others?" he said. "It's important not to go negative on the kids. When the kids miss or drop the ball, parents can just say ‘pick yourself up and go on'. To me, the child is more important than the game."


Little League

     Nichols says the YMCA has lower level competition than Little League. However, the Little League mission also focuses on character virtues, stating that the program is "designed to develop superior citizens rather than superior athletes." Little League also offers Tee Ball. In 2011, more than 1.3 million children ages 4-8

registered to play with the Little League in the U.S.  
     Founded in 1939, Little League now lists more than 7,000 chartered programs worldwide, mostly in the U.S. Steve Barr, Little League's Director of Media Relations, says baseball is a spring tradition in many American homes. "There's a generational carry-over effect. Parents who played come back with their children," he says. "They want baseball to be part of their children's lives, to get them connected to the game, even just for a little bit."

      This is certainly the case for the players in the Trotter Family YMCA t-ball league. Both Ian Goldstein and Henry Caputo received their first baseball mitts from their grandparents when they were born.

      Franklin Caputo observed that his son and teammates went through what he recalls going through at own his first baseball game decades ago. "You can feel the excitement on the field. It's a beautiful day and a fun setting. There's all this hoopla, and you really don't know what's going on. I saw that in some of the kids," he said. "But by the end, they started developing an appreciation of the game, they started to enjoy just being out there and playing with their friends."    

      The Baltimore Orioles are scheduled to play eight games this season. 
     





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