Latin Youth Baseball Helps Rochester's Youth Fly with 'Los Aguilas'

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Latin Youth Baseball Helps Rochester's Youth Fly with 'Los Aguilas'

The definition of a true hero is not a guy who leaps tall buildings in a single bound, but, more realistically, a person who heaps the world's problems upon his or her broad shoulders without regard for their own personal health or well-being. A person who sees a situation and devises a solution rather than to turn their backs and complain.

By definition that would qualify Frank Guzman as more than just a baseball coach, but as a mentor, a leader and yes, a bona fide hero in the eyes of everyone who knows him. When assisting those in a state of crisis from his position with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Guzman has turned his passion for baseball into a rescue for many of Rochester, NY's Latin population. 

In 2005, Guzman, founded The Latin Youth Baseball Foundation , a registered 501(c)3 non-profit, to offer the Latin community of Rochester and it's surrounding communities a positive opportunity as a replacement to the negative alternatives, which often find their way into the lives of inner-city youth.

In an era where many find it easier to simply ignore the unpleasant, Guzman witnessed the rising incidents of delinquent behavior and gang violence that is prominent in our cities today and saw it as an opportunity to make a lasting impression on Rochesters' youth.

Rochester, which was named the sixth most livable city in the United States in 2007, has a population of approximately 220,000 inhabitants, with nearly 14,000 being classified as Hispanic.

"I wanted to create a program for the kids of Rochester to have a positive experience through baseball and to collect all the tools that will help them in the future," explains Guzman.  "My goal is not just to teach them baseball, but to captivate the kids. To bring them into baseball. Maybe get in their heads a bit."

I try to encourage these kids to get their high school diplomas or their GED. To instill values in them. This is what coaches did for me back in Little League and what I hope to give back to the kids today."

Guzman, 42, was born in Puerto Rico before moving to Bronx, NY. When he was in his mid-teens, he and his family moved to Perth Amboy, NJ, before relocating to Rochester in 1996. 

"My family was very important to me growing up. The values that I teach to children today are the same values that were taught to me growing up. Values that my parents instilled in me every single day of my life and unfortunately the same values that are often missing in kids who get involved in drugs and gang violence.

"I saw the need in the Latin community to give kids more than just an opportunity to play baseball. Through the sport, we are able to teach the children about self-esteem and discipline and about trust and teamwork. These are the values that are going to turn them into positive adults."

The league, which was created for children of all ethnicity's from ages four to 18, kicked off in 2006 with a spring season followed by a popular wood bat tournament called Carnaval Relampago (Lightning Carnival).

Carnaval has been held each September since and allows participants from all over New York state to enter teams to participate in tournament style play, as well as, a Home Run Derby, base-running and throwing competitions and a Coaches Home Run Derby.  Authentic Spanish food is served at every game. 

Though league play lasted for only the 2006 season, Carnaval has continued each of the past four seasons and has evolved into one of the elite wood bat tournaments in the game today. The 2010 event will be for players ages four to 18, as always, but this year will include a 19-20 year old division.

This season Guzman is bringing back league play for children four to 18, which will also include softball for those girls ages seven to 14 who don't choose to play baseball.

I asked Guzman what would be the first thing a fan would notice while watching the games in LYB. Perhaps this was the most impressive response which makes one immediately realize the type of organization that Guzman has created.

"Our field conditions are as close to major league as possible. The grounds are perfectly manicured. All umpires, coaches and players are in uniform and the uniforms must be clean and crisp. We provide a clean and organized facility with constant supervision of the games and surrounding areas.

"And their is no smoking. If a parent wants to smoke or behave in a manner that is inappropriate, they will be asked to leave the premises."

Equally impressive was the criteria that Guzman uses to select the Most Valuable Player from the Carnaval Relampago.

"We select the MVP as the player with the best attitude. He or she needs to be a player who plays well, but more importantly a kid who has a great attitude and exhibits teamwork throughout the tournament. That is what is meant by MVP."

Guzman is always looking for sponsors and is appreciative of those organizations that contribute their time or resources to LYB. Aquafina Water will be holding the 2010 Pitch, Hit and Run Competition hosted by LYB. This event allows youth to compete totally free of charge.

One winner will be selected to participate in the PHR Finals at the Major League All-Star. Guzman is hoping to drum up sponsorship from a major national sponsor like Goya Foods.

He is also eager to gain support from any of Major League Baseball's Latin players who could provide financially or sponsor an awards dinner or simply to come up to talk to the kids in the league.

Pitch in For Baseball (PIFB) , will be providing equipment and uniforms to the league this year.  Angela Marcantonini, the program director for PIFB, has worked with several Latin American communities in the States and around the world through Pitch In For Baseball, and recently has spent a lot of time working with the Puerto Rico baseball community. She met Guzman and joined the LYB group via Facebook.

"We began chatting and the more I talked to him and the more I heard about what he had done with LYB, the more impressed I was," explained Marcantonini. "Frank and I had similar views on how playing baseball can teach leadership skills and promote a positive attitude."

Marcantonini continued, "It is not just about putting a ball or bat or glove in a childs hand, but how we can use that ball or bat or glove to teach a child the skills to make better choices in life through the game of baseball.  Our mission at Pitch In For Baseball fit together very well with the LYB mission."

"We will be assisting LYB with baseball equipment and uniforms," added Marcantonini, who has connected with several of her baseball contacts in the States and in Puerto Rico to help Guzman's mission. "I thought his message was something that should get out. We need more people like Frank to step up to the plate and make a difference.  I look forward to working with Frank in the future to help him spread baseball to the Latin American communities of Rochester, and then to other parts of the country!"

Diego Ortiz, age 20, began playing for Guzman when he was 15. Ortiz, currently a criminal justice major at Monroe Community College, told me that Guzman "always shows the players that he cares." 

"That is something that is often missing in a kids life. I know quite a few kids that would have ended up in gangs or doing drugs if it wasn't for Latin Youth Baseball."

The highlight of Ortiz' LYB career was winning the championship in the 16-19 year old division with his team, Los Aguila's or Eagles. I suspect with Guzman's help, Ortiz and his teammates have learned to soar amongst them.

About Latin Youth Baseball

Latin Youth Baseball Foundation was founded in 2005, by Frank Guzman.  The foundation is an independent foundation focused on the youth of Rochester, New York. The mission of LYB is to serve the inner-city youth with positive experiences through their participation in the sport of baseball.  These positive experiences will promote personal, athletic, and academic/vocational growth.

About Pitch in For Baseball

Founded in 2005 by Executive Director, David Rhode, Pitch In For Baseball (PIFB) is the central organization for the collection and redistribution of new and gently used youth baseball and softball equipment to under-served communities both in the U.S. and around the world. PIFB has distributed equipment and uniforms to more than 65 countries worldwide and more than 220 communities around the United States impacting over 75,000 children in need.

Based outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania PIFB is 501 c 3 not for profit organization. For more information, visit www.pitchinforbaseball.org or contact Executive Director, David Rhode at drhode@pitchinforbaseball.org or Program Director, Angela C. Marcantonini @angela@pitchinforbaseball.org.

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