Friday, 23 May 2014 11:03

Three things happen to people when they get older. They move on and leave the past behind. They hang around telling 'boring stories of glory days,' to borrow from Bruce Springsteen. Or, if they're lucky, they find a place like NYO. The musical question the Beatles posed ('Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm sixty-four?') has been answered. I am 64. NYO won't let me get old. Its people are the reason.

There's Cliff Barshay, the baseball commissioner who still coaches his daughter's fastpitch softball team, Theta Beta Delta. It's one thing to set the standards. It's another to live them. Cliff does both. Fastpitch named Cliff Positive Coaching Alliance coach of the year for its 2014 senior league.

There's Brian Raley. the Fastpitch commissioner whose team lost in the senior league championship game. Yet, Brian sings the praises of the winning team's shortstop, Lisa Waltuck, who played her final NYO game. '(We) made the mistake of hitting about 10 shots to shortstop Lisa,' Brian wrote in an email, 'and lost 10 to 1. (Lisa) was flawless. (It was) a great way to end her NYO career.'

There's Drew Moyer, coach of the champion Phillies in Majors baseball and supervisor of upper-league umpires. In his year-end email to parents and players, Drew writes: 'I could go on forever about how great this spring has been. As the boys and families move up to bigger and better baseball, please . . . be sure to support the next group of little Phillies. Our Phillies alum are always welcome in our dugout.'

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Sunday, 18 May 2014 00:00

It's a Saturday morning and Leo Rose seems to be everywhere on the Jane Wilkins Bronco Field. He wears a red 2004 Christopher League NYO tee shirt with the names of that year's participants --- the special-needs players and their 'buddies.' This is the final Saturday of the 2014 spring season, and there are pictures to be taken, trophies to be handed out and awards to be made. Leo, the Christopher League commissioner, is a busy man, but he has his family to help him. Jennifer Rose, Leo's wife, makes sure everything runs smoothly from her spot in the dugout. On the field, their children, Elizabeth, a 29-year-old attorney, and Leo IV, a 26-year-old financial analyst, work with players.

For 15 years, the Rose family has spent Saturday mornings in the spring and fall making the dream of baseball come true for young people who otherwise might never throw or hit a baseball. 'If it's Saturday, it's Christopher League day,' says Leo IV who, like his sister, made it back to NYO on spring break when they were in college. A generation of NYO players have also benefitted, working as 'buddies' to the Christopher League participants. 'The buddies come to know a child just like them, even if that child may look a little different,' explains Jennifer Rose.

Two 'buddies' --- Sam Moss and Chad Davis, baseball players at Riverwood High School --- will receive the Nick Napolitano award for their years of service to the Christopher League. Leo Rose will sing the praises of Sam, Chad and all the volunteers ('I just send out and email and people show up,' Leo says), and he will do what all good leaders do. He will step aside and let the spotlight linger on others.

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Friday, 09 May 2014 11:56

Children become baseball players on the Austin Armstrong Field of Dreams. Once a bumpy sandlot diamond surrounded by slippery earthen slopes, the field has been the showcase of NYO baseball since 1992. It's where 9, 10, 11 and 12-year-olds hit their first fence-clearing homeruns. It's where young pitchers and batters face each other for the first time. Yet, there is something snug and comforting about the field. The bowl-shaped slopes and the ballpark seats that nestle into them focus everyone's attention on the field, on the children and on the game.

To play on the Austin Armstrong Field of Dreams is to come of age at NYO. If the field had a persona, it would be that of a Mom, eager for her child to move on, but wishing the innocence of childhood could linger. On this Mother's Day we pay tribute to a field that gave birth to a new era of NYO.   

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Sunday, 04 May 2014 18:26

Don't be fooled by the team names --- the Lucky Leprechauns, the Orange Crush, the Red Hot Dragons and the Bomb Pops --- 'like the ice cream,' according to one parent. All four NYO Rookie Fastpitch Softball teams are going at it on nearby diamonds. The players, ages 7, 8 and 9, play with a focus, intensity and skill that should lay to rest forever the once-upon-a-time putdown boys used to use about the way someone threw the ball. These girls come to play.

In his NYO directory welcome, commissioner Brian Raley cites 'not only a rise in numbers from last year, but as deep and talented a group of Senior players as we have had, including eight players who pitch for their varsity high school teams.' It's hard-nosed ball, even if the girls wear protective  face masks when they are in the field. Yet, there's a sweetness not always found on the baseball side of NYO, at least to someone who has spent two decades working with boys.

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Friday, 02 May 2014 20:33

Allan Gottlieb turned 55 Saturday, and he spent his birthday doing something he's done for the last 21 years. He coached an NYO baseball game, and he did it in his own unique way. Once a season, he allows his players to choose where they want to play. His Major League team, the Cubs, has eight 12-year-olds and they were invited to tell the coach where to play them. Win or lose (the Cubs won, 11-7), this is a Coach Gottlieb tradition, and it doesn't matter whether a regular-season title is on the line. Once, according to another coach, it was, but that didn't deter Allan Gottlieb. This year, the Cubs have already clinched the regular-season title.

Through more than two decades, Allan Gottlieb has helped NYO evolve into the program it is today. All five of the Gottlieb children have played for their dad, and  there are too many players, too many teams to recount, His players learn the mechanics of the game, but they gain something more. Abe Schear, a close friend who has coached with Allan, recalls when the Christopher League (then called the Challenger League) was in its infancy. 'Allan made arrangements to have all his players be buddies (to the special-needs players), insisting that his team be scheduled (to play) at any time other than the Christopher League games.' 

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Thursday, 01 May 2014 16:17

Like so many brand-new college graduates, Tisha Mahon headed toward Atlanta. A 2013 sports administration major in exercise and sports science at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Tisha dreams of coaching a women's collegiate fastpitch softball team. An outfielder with a .302 career batting average at UNC and speed to burn (57 stolen bases in 70 attempts), Tisha has brought her knowledge and love of fastpitch softball to NYO.

Once a program that relied heavily on dads and the occasional mom to guide its teams, NYO has benefited in recent years from an infusion of coaches in their 20s and 30s. Many are single, played baseball or fastpitch softball in high school or college and work well with kids 10 to 15 years younger than they are. 'Thirty minutes (with Tisha) and our kids said she was awesome,' proclaims Brian Raley, who snagged her to assist with the Shake-n-Bake, a Senior League squad of girls who are in the eighth grade and up. How Tisha came to NYO and what she has discovered makes for a familiar story.

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Wednesday, 30 April 2014 13:38

Yet another NYO alum has received collegiate baseball acclaim. Blake Stevens, who honed his skills on the NYO diamonds, has been named Pitcher of the Year by the Southern Athletic Association. Blake, a right-hander, has led the pitching staff of the Birmingham-Southern College Panthers, among the top college teams in the country, with a record of 33-10.

Blake has put together an eye-popping year at Birmingham-Southern just as his former Marist High School and NYO colleague, Chesny Young, has at Mercer University. He has led the Southern Athletic Association in earned-run-average (0.75) and strikeouts (47) and has held opponents to a .169 batting average, according to the college, which also announced that manager Jan Weisberg has been named SAA coach of the year.

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Saturday, 26 April 2014 14:36

Birth announcements are rare for the NYO website, but this one is special. Dakota Kathleen Jones, all 5 pounds, 9 ounces and 18.5 inches of her, entered this world at 9 p.m. 'on the dot,' according to her proud father, on Thursday, April 17. Dakota, on her own, is special, but her parents, Stan and Carey Jones, are also special to anyone who knows anything about NYO Fastpitch Softball.

Stan is a long-time manager (he heads The Remix, a Senior League team) and an ever-present instructor. You'll likely hear Stan before you see him. His coaching style is high volume and eternally positive. Carey, an instructor at Champions Fastpitch, 'has taught about 75% of NYO Fastpitch how to pitch,' according to league commissioner Brian Raley. Late on a Saturday morning, Stan is whipping underhanded pitches to members of his team as he sharpens their bunting skills.   

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Tuesday, 22 April 2014 15:01

They're the kind of numbers he might have put up when he played Bronco baseball at NYO. Since March 14, Chesny Young has hit  .465 over 22 games, including an 8-for-10 performance in leading the Mercer Bears to a three-game sweep of Northern Kentucky University this past weekend. He also had five walks, drove in eight runs and scored three times in the series. On Monday, Louisville Slugger named Chesny its National Player of the week, as did the Atlantic Sun Conference in which Mercer plays.

Because Chesny and his two younger brothers grew up on the NYO fields, word spreads quickly about his achievements. Long-time NYO coach Allan Gottlieb scooped everyone with his early-morning Tuesday email. And because Chesny's Dad, Ken, who keeps the NYO website running (in addition to performing countless other tasks) would be the last one to brag (modesty is a Young family trait), Dugout Doings is thrilled to share the news.

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Thursday, 17 April 2014 18:56

He saw me watching their pickup game on a sliver of grass wedged in among downtown Havana streets. I'd just finished a run along the Malecon, a massive sea wall that overlooks the Gulf of Mexico. Kids playing baseball, whether at NYO or in the shadow of the Museo de la Revolucion, always provide a good reason to stop and to become a spectator. They played their game with a big wooden bat, a well-worn baseball and just enough gloves for every defensive player.

I motioned to the little guy to throw the baseball, and he did. I caught it and returned the throw, urging him to throw harder. Because I was bare-handed, he hesitated, then trotted over to give me his glove. He borrowed a mitt from another player. As late afternoon turned to dusk, the Cuban kid and the old American guy had a catch. It didn't matter that we were standing near a museum that pays tribute to the Castros and the Cuban revolution. What mattered was that baseball, or beisbol, brought us together.

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Monday, 07 April 2014 16:06

When I wrote this column at the end of last baseball season, wiser heads suggested I put it aside. It focused on one of the most discussed and debated elements of NYO --- all-star teams: how they're assembled and what they represent. More than anything, I wanted to debunk misconceptions. I wanted to offer 'perspective.' 

Things have a way of changing, however. Beginning this year, NYO is rebranding and re-focusing its summer program. At age levels 8, 9, 10, 11 and 13 there will be three teams. Ages 7, 12 and 14 will have two summer teams. More young players than ever before will be able to continue their spring NYO baseball beyond Memorial Day.

NYO's baseball leaders, including Ben Levenbaum, who oversees the summer program, have worked long and hard to find a way to broaden and enrich summer baseball. That they care so much speaks chapters about them.  

Given the number of teams selected for each age group, summer baseball will morph into a program that will continue to compete favorably against the top all-star and travel teams in Georgia. NYO coaches come from the best of NYO's best. Our facilities are tops in the southeast. Our kids (and their parents) know and like each other and will develop even deeper relationships as the summer progresses..   

 

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Monday, 07 April 2014 12:48

Baseball is not an easy game to learn. As supportive and encouraging as NYO is toward the performance of all its players, there is a correct way to play the game. Learning to throw properly, how to catch a fly ball, how to run the bases takes time and instruction. At every NYO level progress occurs over a four-month season, but there's never enough time to do it all.

That's why long-time coach Jeff Woolverton, former NYO players and other coaches offer Sunday morning clinics on the Jane Wilkins Bronco Field for players aged 9 to 12.  Twelve to 15 players grouped according to age participate in the one-hour clinics. The price is $25 per player for an hour of instruction, considerably less than the $80-$100 other instructors charge.The three-to-one player-to-coach ratio affords ample personal instruction. 'What a streak we're on,' Jeff shouts to the four boys lined up to catch fly balls in the outfield. Marco Brok, a 9-year-old Double-A NYO Angel, dives and makes a sprawling catch. As Marco raises his glove to show it contains the baseball, Jeff yells, 'Sell it (to the umpire) when you make a great catch like that.'

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Thursday, 03 April 2014 09:53

Headsets on, Steve Caffarelli, David Hay and Jeff Woolverton banter as the Royals-Dodgers Bronco game unfolds before them on the Jane Wilkins Field. 'You know you're doing something right when your #8 batter hits one almost all the way up to Wieuca,' David Hay says after the Royals' Charlie Hawk blasts a three-run homer that nearly clears the netting atrop the centerfield fence. It's the top of the second and the Royals are on their way to a big inning. They'll take the lead, give it back to the Dodgers, then rally again for a 19-11 win in a three-inning game that reaches the time limit. 'I've just abour run out of fingers and toes,' David Hay says in signing off. 'I'm not sure NYO folks were expecting 30 runs in three innings.' 

It's 5:30 p.m. Wednesday and baseball is live, via the Internet, from NYO. What began as a silent videocast of NYO football and basketball games over the last year has morphed into a full-blown, once-a-week video/audiocast of a live Broncos game. Three broadcasts into the season, the games are drawing 45 live listener-viewers, but they're getting 400 replays a week, according to Ken Young, the Roone Arledge of NYO. 'This is not high-def(inition), but it's the world for a parent (who cannot make the game).' On this night, Ken reports, there are followers in England, Canada and southern California.

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Saturday, 29 March 2014 11:22

Seven-year-old Lisa Waltuck beams from beneath the NYO Fastpitch Softball visor in the photo from from her first season. She's still smiling as she awaits her introduction at Opening Day ceremonies as an NYO'er who will graduate in a few weeks from Woodward Academy, where she has also played fastpitch. Now 17, Lisa is still playing NYO ball for Brian Steel's Senior Bulldogs. Eleven years after she started, Lisa is wrapping up a distinguished NYO career. She has grown up, literally and figuratively, on NYO's fields.

Her enthusiasm has never waned, according to Fastpitch Softball Commissioner Brian Raley. 'The first person I see every year (regardless of the cold) is Lisa in shorts and a tanktop,' Brian says. (She's) an excellent player and a great kid who's been a fixture out here.'

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Sunday, 23 March 2014 13:20

Thirty years ago, he showed up at the NYO fields in Chastain Park. People knew who he was. When you're a three-time All-American defensive back at the hometown school, Georgia Tech, and a college Hall of Fame inductee, played professionally in the Canadian Football League and lettered all four years as a Tech baseball star, introductions come easily.

For three decades, he's coached his kids and others. He's spent thousands of hours, more likely tens-of-thousands of hours, honing young baseball swings. Yet, Baseball Commissioner Cliff Barshay felt the need to remind the Opening Day crowd 'we have a legend in our midst. He's the gray-haired guy you see here all the time.' On this Opening Day Randy Rhino stands for something more, something special about NYO. In his own words, 'It's family. It's second and third-generations. It's parents, grandparents, great-grandparents. On this day, Randy Rhino will take the field with his 7-year-old grandson, Austin, who plays in the Rookie league, to throw out the ceremonial first pitch.

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Sunday, 23 March 2014 11:11

Nestled in his Wieuca Road pressbox perch, Larry Bennett shells peanuts and watches the Jane Wilkins Bronco Field form into a rainbow of tiny uniformed players. A bitter winter --- two snowstorms, three nights of single-digit temperatures --- has given way to a brilliant spring day. Temperatures work their way toward 70 degrees. There's green grass on the field, something Larry Bennett and those who tend to our facilities weren't sure would happen on time this year.

Today is Opening Day. It's the day NYO baseball and fastpitch softball officially launch a new season, even if some games have already been played. It's the day little boys and girls in the younger leagues put on their uniforms, festoon them with Mardi Gras beads and march behind banners that list every child's name. Four and five deep, they form an arc around the coffee-brown infield of the Wilkins Field. Always busy, Chastain Park has a special, festive feel to it this Saturday morning.

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Saturday, 01 March 2014 16:03

Like church bells waking a sleeping village, the ping of metal bats signals a new NYO season. You hear the batting cage sounds before you see the fields. Smooth clay infields, freshly lined with chalk and dotted with snow white bases, mean a baseball game is near. Rye grass has yet to turn brilliant green, but it's only March 1, the temperature is 45 degrees and the sky is overcast.

Because of calendar complications (later-than-usual spring breaks and an earlier-than-normal Memorial, Day) NYO has pushed up its season by two weeks for its older baseball teams and its fastpitch softball program. That pre-season practice time was cut short and teams would have to gel under game conditions seemed to matter little to the Bronco Pirates and Yankees, last year's championship combatants and long-time rivals. They took the Jane Wilkins Field in their brand-new uniforms and picked up where they left off. 

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Friday, 28 February 2014 17:10

For four springs we have chronicled Andee Poulos' recovery from an injury caused when a blood vessel ruptured in her brain in January 2011. 'I couldn't walk or speak or smile or do anything for almost two years,' Andee told a ballroom of 750 adults in February. But now she's 'back in school, making straight A's and looking forward to a life of smiles and happiness.'

The saga of Andee Poulos, once an NYO fastpitch softball star and now a poised 17-year-old, continues. Hundreds of good people known as 'Andee's Army' celebrate her remarkable recovery with a 5K run and walk that, entering its third year, has benefited more than 35 families in need of emergency financial help. This year's event is 8:30 a.m. Saturday, March 22, at Riverwood High School, where Andee is a ninth-grader. The race will be over in time to attend NYO's annual Opening Day parade. Another NYO'er, Will Penn, who suffered a like brain injury in 2011, will join Andee as honorary co-director. Will's recovery and return to NYO baseball are equally gratifying. Like Andee, Will is a battler.

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Saturday, 08 February 2014 11:45

To the usual challenges of wet and cold at the start of any NYO baseball and fastpitch softball season we can add this year's calendar. Spring breaks for private and public schools, a later-than-normal Easter and an earlier-than-normal Memorial Day are causing changes in this year's schedule, according to Baseball and Fastpitch Commissioners Cliff Barshay and Brian Raley.

Typically, a big parade and an elaborate Opening Day celebration kick off the year in mid-March. The parade and festivities will occur March 22, but some baseball and fastpitch games will be played starting the weekend of March 1 and 2. The calendar is the culprit.

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Monday, 03 February 2014 17:16

He said he'd played baseball his entire life, but the dad-turned-coach seemed bewildered: 'And now I've got to coach four-year-olds?' Put little ones on a baseball field and anything can happen.There are mounds of dirt to form, blades of grass to pick. Baserunners have run through second base and into left field, headed for who knows where.

NYO starts 'em young.There are skills to be learned, friendships to be made and, above all, fun to be had.Yet, the line between chaos and something called baseball is a fuzzy one. A one-hour practice can be little more than day care, or it can be an opportunity to learn and burn energy. A two-inning game can be agony or it can be the sweetest You Tube video you've ever seen. Coaches make the difference, and this year some of NYO's most-experienced coaches spent an afternoon passing along the wisdom of what it takes to build a team of tykes.

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