Mayor Thomas Bernard thanks Canales and Romano for their efforts with the youth baseball exchange. See more photos here.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The LaFesta Baseball Exchange has been connecting the two ends of the state in this annual celebration of baseball, brotherhood, and youth sportsmanship between the state's smallest and largest cities.
And before the North Adams LaFestas and the North End Dodgers faced off at Joe Wolfe Field on a hot muggy Saturday, the organizers took a moment to remember the idea first broached by John Lipa and Anthony Abuisi nearly three decades ago.
"A lot of times in any community you hear, 'hey you know, somebody really should do ... whatever,'" said Mayor Thomas Bernard. "And 30 years ago, they had the idea somebody really should build a connection between North Adams and the North End. And they didn't ask permission and they didn't look for a lot of city support or community support when it came along because they did the work.
"And they built the relationships and they built a connection. That's why now 30 years later after that first visit we're still here and the programs are still going strong."
A lot of that has been the work of George Canales and John Romano, who ran with the idea all those years ago.
Romano, coordinator of the North End Athletic Association, noted this might be the 29th year of the exchange but it was really the 30th trip west. Lipa, Abuisi and others had asked about doing a Feast of St. Anthony, what has been a North End tradition for century now.
"During that discussion it came up, you know, we should be doing something with the kids from both North Adams and the North End. And the idea of baseball came up seeing that both towns had a rich baseball program. And the brought George and myself involved at the time," Romano said. "We got a bunch of kids together. We drove up here and to play on a Saturday night and no ever knew what would become of it."
LaFesta, a cultural and community festival, ran for a number of years before petering out — but the baseball exchange emerged that after that first pickup game is now at 29 years and counting. It's the oldest baseball exchange on this side of the Mississippi.
The first game in the two-game series this weekend took place under sunny skies and sweltering heat and they'll return to Joe Wolfe on Sunday. In between, there was a picnic at Windsor Lake sponsored by Desperados and Linda's Cafe, a SteepleCats game in the afternoon, a dunk at the new splash park and other activities.
In August, the North Adams team will head to the North End for another two-game series and to see a bit of Boston. It's a chance for urban youth to experience the country and rural Berkshire residents the big city.
The exchange has involved more than 1,000 youth who have played more than 100 games. It's not so much the score but the opportunity to forge connections, find self-confidence and experience different surroundings, say organizers.
"I want to thank everybody that's here tonight to watch these young men play this game of baseball," said Canales. "You know, the sportsmanship that I have seen over the 29 years, it's been outstanding. Outstanding."
Canales' granddaughter Samantha, a student at McCann Technical School, present Romano with a wooden plaque of the state showing a line connecting the cities that was made by the school's carpentry program. Romano presented Canales with a proclamation from Boston Mayor Martin Walsh — and a promise of cannolis.
"That's awesome. Every year I come up here and they always make me something," Romano said. "Before it was a baseball bat and a home plate and now it's a plaque, next year it will be the 30th year, I don't know, maybe it will be a baseball field. It gets bigger and bigger."
Then Lillian Colvin, 13, of Pittsfield sang "The Star-Spangled Banner" and the mayor threw out the first pitch.
And with that, the 29th annual Lafesta Baseball Exchange was ready to play ball.
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