Cooperstown trip will be ‘field of dreams’ for Rocky River’s Junior Bucs
By Sue Botos
Rocky River resident Charlie Jaite has always realized that the city’s empty ball fields were diamonds in the rough.
“It was always frustrating when driving through the city and not seeing kids out on the ball fields,” recalled Jaite, who decided to take action.
With the help of then-Rocky River High School baseball coach Tim Clark and longtime baseball booster Art Johanson, Jaite began informal clinics at Elmwood Park about eight years ago on Sunday mornings, teaching the basics of the sport, and hoping for interest from kids 12 and younger.
The trio hit a home run.
“After about five weeks, there were about 60 kids on the fields. Kids were getting dropped off by the carload,” Jaite said, adding that he eventually recruited some dads to help with the would-be ball players, boys and girls, some as young as 4.
After discovering the deep bench of interest, Jaite, Clark and Johanson decided to form teams to complement the iconic Rocky River Little League, which was founded in 1952, for children in grades 3 through 6.
So began the Rocky River Buccaneers, or “Junior Bucs,” teams for youngsters aged 8 to 15, which compete in the Cuyahoga Valley Baseball Association Summer League. The group will be representing the city to the whole country this summer when two sixth-grade squads participate in a tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park at the site of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
“We took a look around at other cities that played in the (CVBA) league,” said Jaite, who used this information when creating the program.
Jaite said that tryouts for the teams are more like evaluations. “Our goal is to encourage kids to play. If a kid is interested, we will find a place for them,” he said. Although the current squads are all boys, girls are welcome. Jaite added that unless there is a safety issue, no one is cut from a squad.
The Cooperstown tournament runs almost the entire summer, and features 100 teams representing all 50 states. One of the 12-member Rocky River squads will compete the week of June 28, and the other the week of July 6. Jaite said that since the tournament started in the 1990s, only three teams from Rocky River have participated. “Our goal is to send a team of 12-year-olds each year,” Jaite stated.
He added that this age group was chosen because it’s at this age that many children need a confidence boost. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for them. This may be the last baseball that some of them play,” he noted, referring to the fact that some of the players may not make the cut for high school and other higher level teams.
Jaite added that the selection process for the tournament is somewhat “secretive,” but it helps to get the applications in early and to have had a team participate in the past.
Cost per player for the competition and trip to Cooperstown is $1,000. The group will conduct a fundraiser, “Winter WonderWalk,” sponsored by the merchants of Old Detroit and Beachcliff Market Square, on Saturday during the day, and an evening fundraiser at the Burntwood Tavern from 7 to 11 p.m. Cost for the evening event is $25, which includes food, a raffle and other activities.
Jaite admitted to being excited about the trip to Cooperstown, which includes a Hall of Fame Tour. As for his players, he said, “It hasn’t hit them yet. It will when they walk through the gates.
All team members are excited about the trip, and Gavin Haley, Owen Jaite and Henry Curtis are no exception.
“I’m really excited,” said Owen Jaite. “All my friends will be there and I’ve never been to the Hall of Fame before.”
Teammate Curtis agreed. “It’ll be fun playing baseball with kids from across the country.”
Of the 100 families involved in the Bucs program, Jaite commented, “People have trusted me to go along for the ride. This will be something they’ll all remember.”
Anyone wanting to make a donation to the Bucs can contact Charlie Jaite at firstname.lastname@example.org.