(For photo album please visit: http://bit.ly/2wjOc3h.)
A dozen teams, 30 games played at four different venues, more than 200 participating players, and four days of ideal weather added up to a record turnout – and smashing success — for the BASE’s third annual Urban Baseball Classic, held in Boston August 9-13.
From Thursday’s opening ceremonies — where players, coaches, and parents were greeted by BASE president Robert Lewis Jr. and representatives from program sponsors Franklin Sports, Coca-Cola, Easton Sports, and others — to Sunday’s closing ceremonies, an emotionally-charged celebration of urban baseball and the values it promotes, this year’s Classic showcased programs that emphasize academic achievement and personal growth along with athletic excellence.
In addition to dozens of highly competitive baseball games, visiting players, coaches, and family members got to enjoy the unique opportunities that make the Urban Classic truly special.
There was a College & Career Fair, staffed by 20 New England colleges and job-training programs; tours of Fenway Park and the John F. Kennedy Museum; a college showcase attracting coaches from UMass, Suffolk Univ., Fisher College, and other local schools; an all-star softball game and all-team cookout; and, thanks to housing provided by Fisher College, ready access to downtown Boston and the city’s Back Bay neighborhood.
Among the VIPs turning out for this year’s Classic were Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, Red Sox President Sam Kennedy, Boston College baseball coach Mike Gambino, and two Foundation To Be Named Later leaders, co-founder Paul Epstein and executive director Allyce Najimy.
Frank Brim, who runs Chicago’s Garfield Park Little League program, noted that bringing a team to Boston has grown both easier and more rewarding every year.
“Now the older kids tell the younger ones about it,” Brim said, soon after arriving by bus from the Windy City. “They know a lot of colleges in Boston are interested in them both as baseball players and students. They can’t wait to get back here.”
Added Brim, who looks forward to a BASE Chicago facility opening in the near future, “The BASE is impacting these kids in ways that actually save lives. What this program is about is creating great decision-makers. This is a methodology that works. This is family. You walk in here, people run up to shake your hand or hug you. This happens nowhere.”
A first-time participant, Greg Kloosterman of the Pittsburgh Game Changers met Robert and his Astros team at a tournament in Virginia this past summer. Impressed by what he saw, Kloosterman quickly accepted an invitation to this year’s Classic. He was not disappointed.
“Every one of my players have been blown away by being here,” Kloosterman said. “They are not used to a community-type, we-all-get-better-together mentality. Yet this is the way baseball is supposed to be played.”
Perhaps no visiting coach was more moved to be at the Urban Classic than was Seth Traystman of the CT Hurricanes. Two years in a row, his team had played against a BASE Astros 18u team in Virginia. At this year’s tournament, Traystman heard about Astros players being subjected to some ugly remarks by supporters of another team. By email, he let Robert know how upset he was. Robert responded by inviting the ‘Canes to this year’s Classic, telling them they had “earned their spot.” A close bond was quickly forged between the two programs.
“Where we are, a lot of the teams are all about making money,” said Traystman during Sunday’s closing ceremonies. “These teams are businesses. And that’s not what’s going on here at the BASE, or with our team. This is about raising young kids and bringing them into the community and getting them to understand that, even in competition, you can be friends.”
“My father taught me early in life that fear is ignorance,” he continued, clearly moved by the moment. “Fear is the unknown. So educate yourself. Get to know people, as much as you can, and fear will go away. That brings confidence and self-esteem, which allows you to accomplish anything you put your mind to.”
One by one, speakers at Sunday’s closing ceremonies urged participants to stay in touch — and to build upon the spirit of togetherness and inclusiveness they had shared while playing in Boston.
Asking for feedback on ways to improve, and expand, next year’s event, Robert said, “The great thing about this year is that so many got to play. The unfortunate thing is, thousands of other kids didn’t get that chance. We want to make sure we provide that opportunity for all the young folks.”
Pittsburgh’s Greg Kloosterman hoped everyone involved would stay connected during the off-season. “If there’s something any of you need, ask,” he said. “Just within this network, this group, anything can get done.”
Frank Brim expressed his hope that perceptions of his home city would be changed by what Garfield Park and its players had shown other teams. “These kids are not only representing the west side of Chicago, they’re representing what’s good about Chicago,” he noted. “All these young men here are college bound. They are not gangbangers. They are great young men.”
To cheers from the crowd, he added, “We are changing the narrative, one base at a time.”
This year’s Urban Classic closed with a game pitting current BASE players against an Astros alumni team. It was dedicated to the memory of former Astros player Angel Oller, a beloved BASE family member who passed away in 2015.
- Joe Kahn