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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Play Ball! LaFesta Baseball Exchange Celebrating 16 Years

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Thursday, June 22, 2006

North Adams - George Canales memory is overflowing with LaFesta Baseball Exchange anecdotes.

In June 2005, when a Boston-based Babe Ruth League "North End Dodgers" team traveled to the city for baseball and bonding, a Boston player's dad tackled a rope challenge set up by the city police department, Canales said.

More Than A Ball Game

"This guy was a doctor - he and North End Councilman Paul Scapicchio came up with the team- and they went on the ropes," Canales said. "They had so much fun. The doctor said to me 'I was like an 18-year-old kid up there.' When we made our trip to Boston in August, he was there [at an exchange baseball game], and he looked up into the stands and said 'who are all those people?'"

"All those people" were about 30 North Adams folks who'd traveled to Boston as supporters of the city's team. The doctor gathered up the city contingent and brought them to a restaurant owned by his wife, Canales said.

"He took us there and he said 'order off the menu, it's on me,'" Canales said.

Canales also remembered a Northern Berkshires player who had one arm. The player put a lot of effort into his playing and he caught the eye of Boston Mayor Thomas Menino while in Boston, Canales said.

"The Mayor came up to me and he said 'George, can you help me meet that kid,'" Canales said. "I introduced them, and Menino took him on a little walk. When they got back, the kid runs up to me and he says 'Mr. Canales, I was with the Mayor and he talked to me about baseball! He never asked me about my arm at all!' That kid was thrilled."

16th LaFesta Baseball Exchange

The 16th yearly LeFesta Baseball Exchange is scheduled to get underway on Saturday June 24 with game one of the two-game series starting at 7 p.m. at the Joe Wolfe Field.

Opening ceremonies are set to begin at about 6:40 p.m., Canales said.

The second game is scheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday June 25 at the Joe Wolfe Field.

"We're hoping we can get people to come down and watch the games, see the exchange," Canales said.

History In The Making

The LaFesta Baseball Exchange is made up of two teams, one from the city and one from Boston. Team members are chosen from Babe Ruth teams and are between 13 and 15 years old, Canales said. The Boston team travels to the city in June for a weekend of baseball and socialization. In August, Boston's North End plays host to the city team.

The city exchange sponsor is Frank Sigsbury, owner of the Modern Aluminum Anodizing Inc. mill. Sigsbury has been a sponsor since the first exchange, Canales said. Canales is the exchange committee chairman, and the Boston organizer is John Romano.

The initiative launched as part of a festival known as LaFesta that offered family events and musical entertainment during a scheduled June weekend for a number of years before ceasing in 2002. Although the festival is no longer held, the baseball exchange and a 3-on-3 basketball tournament launched during LaFesta's heydays continue as summer traditions.

The exchange is poised to make history.

It is recognized as the oldest operating baseball exchange for youth between 13 and 15 years old in New England, and may be the oldest exchange serving that age category in the country, Canales said. If both scheduled games are played during the city portion of the event, and an Aug. 5 game is played in Boston, a game scheduled for Aug. 6 will mark the exchange's 50th game. And that would break an existing New England record for games played by an exchange for that age category, Canales said.

"It's been a great opportunity for young men from 13 to 15," Canales said. "The kids from both sides have been outstanding. You should see the kids, you should hear them and the fun they have."

Tall Buildings and Cow Country

When the Boston team players arrive in the city, they are often awed by the rural landscape and the presence of wildlife, such as deer, or by being able to get a good look at a cow or two, Canales said.

"And our kids are saying 'oh, we see this stuff all the time,' and then they go to Boston and they can't believe how big the buildings are," he said. "This is part of the exchange, the sharing of the cultures."

Initiating new friendships is a significant part of the exchange.

A Catered Cook-Out And A Pizza Party

For instance, when the North End team players arrive for this year's city series, they and the city team players will be treated to a catered cook-out at Windsor Lake, Canales said.

Pat Cariddi is the cook-out caterer, and the city police department has again agreed to set up rope challenges that are used during a R.O.P.E.S youth camp. The players are welcome to tackle the ropes course, Canales said.

The players are expected to be treated to a Saturday evening pizza party. The players are encouraged to mix and mingle over pepperoni, mushrooms, onions, and extra cheese.

"Everybody really has a good time, and that's what we want to see, kids talking, making friends, writing to each other," Canales said.

The trip to the North End is a much-anticipated good time, Canales said.

"In Boston, our kids get a very warm welcome," he said.

The North End youth stay at the Northern Berkshires Holiday Inn when they come to the city, Canales said.

"And [hotel manager]Ed Bassi is just wonderful," Canales said. "My hat is off to him, the way he is to these kids."

Canales' son Jason was an exchange player and now assists Canales with the exchange, Canales said. He also cited the efforts of his wife Nancy and sons Michael and David.

"There's a lot to think about, like what can we do different this year and what can we do with the kids if it rains," Canales said. "My wife and my sons, they do a tremendous amount of work for this."

Cameron, McGrath Played As Exchange Team Members

Over 450 youth have participated with the exchange since it began, and several of them have gone on to bigger and better baseball.

Canales said that Ryan Cameron, currently with the Philadephia Phillies and a former Colorado Rockies pitcher, and Steeplecats baseball team General Manager Sean McGrath are exchange alumni, as is Peter Greenbush, who earned a try-out with the St. Louis Cardinals.

Other past exchange players have become firefighters and police officers, Canales noted.

"It Would Be Great To Get A Crowd..."

"It would be great to see people come to the games on Saturday and Sunday, and not just to root for North Adams," Canales said. "When we go to Boston, if one of our kids makes a good play, the Boston people root for them. I've seen our kids get standing ovations for plays during the Boston games. The exchange really isn't about winning. It's the state's biggest city coming all the way across to play the state's smallest city. It's about the different cultures. It would be great to get a crowd and have people rooting for all the players. That would be great."

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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