Berkshire Profile: LaFesta Baseball ExchangeBy Susan Bush
12:00AM / Sunday, June 25, 2006
Welcome to Berkshire Profile, an iberkshires weekly feature appearing on Sunday. Each week, iberkshires will highlight a Berkshires resident or entity making a contribution to the Berkshires way of life.
|Arthur Zander, 15, of Readsboro, Vt. and 13-year-old Luigi Natale of Boston participated as Lafesta Baseball Exchange team members during the weekend exchange event hosted by the North Adams contingent.|
North Adams - Luigi Natale was unable to conceal his delight.
"I've Been Waiting For This"
Natale, 13, was among the Boston Babe Ruth League's "North End Dodgers" players who traveled to the city on June 23 for the LaFesta Baseball Exchange. The game was scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. at Joe Wolfe field; the members of both exchange teams spent part of the afternoon at a catered cook-out at Windsor Lake.
The Noel Field athletic complex and the baseball diamond drew raves from Luigi.
"It's beautiful!" he said. "And we are going to play in that stadium, and they call your name at the game. I've been waiting for this. It's a tradition."
The young man from Boston's North End acknowledged the many amenities of the downtown Holiday Inn, where the team players stayed during the junket, and the beauty of the Northern Berkshire region.
LaFesta Baseball Exchange organizer George Canales of North Adams received an affectionate greeting from Laurie Delia of Boston's "North End Against Drugs" group.
And there was something else Luigi noticed.
"It's different here," he said. "They got Yankees stuff here."
As he spoke, Luigi was surrounded by youth between 13 and 15 years old, all involved in a pick-up football or basketball game. The recreational teams were each comprised of North Adams and Boston youth, who mixed and mingled as though they'd known each other for years.
Arthur Zander, a 15-year-old from Readsboro, Vt., who participates with the city's Babe Ruth baseball program, summed up his feelings about the exchange.
"It's pretty sweet," he said.
A Big Event
Carl Ameno has served as the North End exchange team coach since the event began 16 years ago.
"The kids look forward to this year to year," Ameno said. "They talk about it practically year 'round. The kids who play take pride in being the team that went to North Adams that year."
Ameno said that he wouldn't mind if another North End coach wanted to experience the exchange but emphasized that he is not likely to suspend his own involvement unless another coach makes a firm commitment to the program.
"I would never want to not come as coach and be the reason this didn't happen," he said. "I really don't want to let these kids down. This is something they talk and talk about."
City coach Jason Card agreed with Ameno.
"This is a big event for the kids," he said.
A Common Bond
Ameno, North End exchange organizer John Romano, city residents George Canales, John Lipa, and Anthony Abuisi and Abuisi's long-time friend Joe Sgarano of Boston, are the exchange founders. Boston's North End is renowned for its' many feasts and festivals, and Lipa, Canales, and Abuisi were in the midst of planning city-based LaFesta, also called JuneFest, activities [a former city event]during 1990.
standing from left, George Canales, John Romano, John Lipa, and Carl Ameno. Kneeling, Jason Canales and George Beckwith
The LaFesta organizers sought assistance from North End folks, a group that included Sgarano, and both contingents were interested in developing ways to involve the youth of each area. Through discussions, the exchange was created, said Canales.
"We figured baseball was a common bond, something kids liked," he said.
The theory has proved itself on a yearly basis since then. But the exchange doesn't begin and end with baseball; there is a significant cultural component to the program. The North End participants discover rural landscapes and small-town life during their trip and when the North Adams team travels to Boston in August, they experience a bit of big city life.
And there is all the food.
Don't Forget The Food
A pizza party was planned for this weekend, and city caterer Pat Cariddi's lakeside cook-out menu was making more than one mouth water.
Cariddi prepared hot dogs, hamburgs, hot sausage patties, baked beans, corn on the cob, pasta salad, veggie dip trays, arranged cookie platters and sliced watermelon for the meal.
The city group visits the North End during a festival; this year, organizers believe the Madonna Della Cava feast will be underway when the exchange continues.
"At the feast, they'll have a blast," said Luigi.
Canales son and longtime exchange volunteer Jason Canales predicted a favorable response to a feast or festival.
"They'll [team players] be fat and happy," he said.
Friends and family members of Romano put their years of cooking expertise together and prepare a home-cooked meal for the exchange teams during the North End visit, Romano said.
Cook-out caterers from left, Ben Cariddi, Barb Cariddi, and Pat Cariddi
The Beat Goes On
Laurie Delia is active with the North End Against Drugs organization and also helps with the exchange.
"I'm on the board [of directors] of the North End Against Drugs," she said. "I've always been in the North End, so I've always been involved [with the exchange]."
She and Ameno are also apparently entertaining karaoke performers as well, according to George Canales.
"A couple of years ago, they were at the [Holiday Inn] and they did karaoke as Sonny and Cher," he said. "And you would have thought it was really [Sonny and Cher]. That was something you needed to see. They brought the house down."
"The Easiest Word In The English Language Is No"
George Beckwith of Stamford, Vt. is active with the city Babe Ruth league and the baseball exchange.
"I fell in love with this program," Beckwith said. "I've been involved with the exchange for about 12 years. The kids seem to get a lot out of it."
Beckwith said he believes the program will continue for years to come.
"I'd take it on myself if I had to," he said.
Sportsmanship, exposure to new cultures, and a stand against substance abuse coupled with a feeling of extended family has built the exchange into a solid youth program, according to all those interviewed on June 23.
"The main thing is the kids getting along and sharing cultures," said Canales. "It's keeping kids away from drugs. The easiest word in the English language is 'no.' So just say 'no,' and use sportsmanship on and off the field. And you have to know that each year, each team, these kids represent their cities to the best and that's important."
Gotta Be Fun
Canales noted that the players selected as exchange team members are most often not the "All-Star" players. Players who are designated as "All-Star" players generate attention and time in the local limelight; selecting different youth for the exchange team affords opportunity to other Babe Ruth players of the appropriate age category, said Canales.
"We never realized when we all met 16 years ago that this would be here today," Canales said, and noted that he has saved all the player rosters, the signed baseballs and the team shirts from each exchange year, and has amassed a photograph collection that hosts over 1,000 exchange pictures.
"Oh, yeah, I'm a fanatic," he said with a big smile.
The exchange was built on an idea that was practically guaranteed to generate success, according to Luigi.
"It's about playing baseball," he said. "It's playing baseball with new people and making new friends."
"I mean, it's gotta be fun."
Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com or at 802-823-9367.