Little League children taught to succeed off field

Bianco Berry (left) and his daughter, London. Photo by Katie Ebner

The vice president of Progress Village Little League teaches children more about life than baseball in hopes of inspiring a misunderstood community.

Progress Village was created less than 60 years ago—before the height of the civil rights movement—to give black people an affordable community to call home. Only a railroad track separated it from the Klu Klux Klan, who terrorized members of the new community.

Progress Village changed a lot over the years, but it still fights a bad reputation from its drug problems and murders that seem to be the only reasons the community makes the news.

Little League Vice President Bianco Berry, however, sees Progress Village differently than outsiders. Though he did not grow up there, the tight-knit community enjoys a rich storytelling culture, which is how he learned about its history.

“Just to hear the old stories is really, it’s almost like, you growing up, you wasn’t always here, but you always feel like you was always involved in the community,” said Berry.

Berry started volunteering with the Little League when he moved to Tampa in 2006. His passion for giving back to the community and being a positive influence for his children and the children he coaches earned him a spot on the Little League board, and eventually the title as vice president.

During his stint as vice president he coached both of his children, and even coached his daughter’s softball team when it won the district championship two years ago. His daughter, London, 11, cherishes her relationship with her dad for more than what they have accomplished on the field together.

“Many people don’t have a dad that can just tell them that, ‘oh you’re amazing, you’re worth it in life,’ so I just feel like respected that like I have someone that is there for me that can tell me that,” said London.

She credits the Little League for playing a big role in teaching children like her valuable life lessons.

“I think that kids can develop great leadership because Progress Village, we hold a lot of like activities for the children to do, just to get involved more, and also it gives the kids like new opportunities to learn something new, and to experience things off of others,” said London.

His primary focus is not winning games. It’s helping children learn how to achieve great things beyond Little League Baseball.

“We’re trying to teach you the game, trying to teach you the fundamentals, trying to teach you this is how life is,” said Berry.

As one of the league’s leaders, Berry wants players to recognize the importance of working together.

“We try to give you the tools that’s not necessary to succeed in sport but to succeed in life as well,” said Berry. “This has to be like a team organization. You got to have teamwork when you go to your job, you got to have a team, got to be able to rely on others, you try to teach them it’s not always about ‘me me me.'”

He also emphasizes the importance of giving at-risk children a positive atmosphere to learn and grow, instead of falling into bad habits.

“[We] try to teach them to be respectful of everyone, and just try to provide a safe and fun environment for them to come out and do stuff, and not have to be always in the streets, always doing something negative,” said Berry. “Try to turn something negative, and try to make them keep, keep a positive attitude.”

Bianco and London spoke to WUSF as part of its “Telling Tampa Bay Stories” radio series. Photo by Katie Ebner

Berry teaches his own children these same values. On every family vacation, he and his wife take their children to different universities wherever they visit to show their kids what they can achieve if they continue to work hard and be positive influences on others. These trips gave his daughter a new perspective, and inspired her to make a difference in others’ lives.

” … Until like a few years ago I didn’t really realize that most people don’t exactly get like I have,” said London. “[I’m] able to do stuff in life, [and] not always [be] one of those people who’s always down. I can always stay positive.”

According to Berry, both of his children exemplify the values he tries to teach Little League players, and he could not be more proud of them. His daughter talks about how she stands up for kids who get bullied at school, and how she is involved with Sisters Network—an organization that raises awareness for African-American women impacted by breast cancer. One day, she wants to be a doctor or professional athlete.

“I mean, she’s a pleasure,” said Berry about his daughter. “Both my kids are, so I’m just happy trying to do the right thing by them, make sure they can be productive citizens in life.”

USF Second Baseman Honored by Conference

Coco Montes,a USF sophomore infielder, was recognized by the American Athletic Conference during a big week for USF baseball. The team went 5-0 and had a huge win against Florida State. Montes totaled three runs, his second home run of the season and a team-high five RBIs. Montes said he is ready to continue this type of play throughout the rest of his sophomore year.

“My body feels a lot better than last year,” Montes said. “Just being able to come out here and start winning, that’s going to be the biggest thing for me.”

The second baseman was recruited out of Miami with the vision that he could immediately have an impact on USF’s baseball program.  Montes had a big freshman year, but has improved since then.

Both Montes and head coach Mark Kingston said they believe that confidence has a lot to do with it.

“He is just a better all-around player. He’s taken the second base very well,” Kingston said. “I just think his confidence is at an all-time high.”

Coco Montes says being AAC’s player of the week is nice, but he’s more proud of the fact that his team had a great week.

 

Rays Seek Attendance Boost with Student Rush deal

The Tampa Bay Rays are hoping to give their college-aged fans more bang for their buck.

For the first time, the Rays are offering Student Rush tickets to fans 18 or older with a high school or college ID.  Students can get lower level seats every Friday night for just $15.

Rays vice president of communications Rick Vaughn said the team is targeting a different type of fan each day.

“On Monday, we hand out free tickets for military veterans on Military Monday,” Vaughn said. “For all Tuesday home games, kids 14 and under can get in for $2, and Wednesday we sell two dollar hot dogs. For Thursday, all seniors 60 years of age or older will receive a discounted ticket, and of course Friday is Student Rush.”

Vaughn said the Rays are in the upper third of major league baseball television ratings.

As for actual game attendance? Not so much. In 2015, Tampa Bay ranked last in the league, averaging just over 15,000 fans per game in a stadium that can fit up to 42,000.

Though the Rays are uncertain of how many students will attend the Friday games, they expect to average 2,000 to 3,000 students each week. Vaughn said if fans make the trip and show support of the deal, they will see there is more to do than just watch the game.

“We have the Ted Williams Baseball Museum,” Vaughn said. “It’s free with the purchase of a game ticket. We also have the ray tank in centerfield where we are supported by the Florida Aquarium.”

As for the students? They said the discount is something that should not be overlooked.

“For a student, this is a good opportunity to get out and do things around the Tampa Bay area without having to break your wallet,” said Aaron, a student from the University of Tampa.

Vaughn and the Rays hope promotions like Student Rush will help provide a much-needed boost in attendance.

For Bay area college students, this is one deal that is sure to be a home run.

“It’s great,” said Spencer, a student from the University of South Florida. “Since I work and I’m saving money, $15 for a Rays game is my kind of deal.”

 

Rays Begin Spring Training

Port Charlotte- Fans couldn’t have been more excited as the Tampa Bay Rays baseball season officially began in southwest Florida. After a loss in their spring opener against the Nationals, Rays’ fans came to Charlotte Sports Park looking for a win against the Orioles on Friday.

“These games matter to us!” said Cynthia Howard, a Rays’ fan from Sarasota. “We love baseball so much that we want wins even when they don’t count.”

Howard was joined by William Hall, her boyfriend, who happened to be an Orioles fan.

“The Orioles will win today. We lost yesterday too, so we came here looking to win,” Hall said.

Howard’s team came out on top as the Rays defeated the Orioles 10-3. The Rays first win of the spring was highlighted by newcomer Corey Dickerson’s long home run in the 2nd.

Acquired in a trade from the Rockies in the offseason, Dickerson drilled a towering shot over the Rays’ clubhouse in right field. The Rays have reported that the ball stopped rolling in the parking lot 569 feet from home plate.

It was quite the debut for Dickerson; something Rays’ fans hope is a sign of things to come.

Technology implementation helps Bulls batters to improve their performance

Hitting a round ball with a round bat might be the single most difficult thing to do in sports. Baseball players of the University of South Florida spend a lot of time in the film room before they step inside the batters box.

“We’re able to look at guys swings in practice, in games, and in intersquads,” Bulls Head Coach Mark Kingston said. “How we like to use video the most is get a good library of when a guy is really swinging it well, and when he may be struggling, and then what we can do is put those videos next to each other, and you see what the differences are.”

Assistant Coach Mike Current is the czar of the film room and helps to mold his players into complete hitters.

“I think video is a big part of the instruction process. Sometimes it’s difficult to explain something to a guy and him listen to what you’re saying and understand how to translate it into action,” Current said. “But when he can actually see what’s going on and see what you’re talking about it’s a lot easier to make adjustments.”

Technological advances have ensured that players like freshman Garrett Zech have advantages that generation before his did not.

“The work we do in the film with Coach Current has definitely helped my mechanics and ability to compete at this level,” Zech said.

When Kingston played baseball professionally, the ability to watch video was not as easy as it is today.

“They’d sometimes bring out a camera, and you could watch it or you’d see the highlights on the news that night and tape it,” Kingston said. “These days guys can get instant feedback. I think the instant feedback is really the key to how video is used these days.”

Rays Fan Fest 2016

Fans were given a chance to mingle with both players, coaches, and alumni. Autographs by some of the team favorites raised over $50,000 for charity. Carnival-style games and batting cages were enjoyed by fans of all ages.

After two decades of playing at Tropicana Field in St. Pete, word of the team seeking out a new stadium spread fast. With an official search for a site underway, fans were asked what they thought about the potential move.

Trevor Norman of Largo said, “I don’t think it’s really the whole far away factor…you hop on the interstate and you’re there. I think the biggest thing is probably parking. Kind of a shady area but, you know, I guess, I think if they could improve that they could definitely get more people to come.”

Key considerations of the new stadium include location, authenticity, and size. The Rays’ have suggested a site with at least 20 acres.

Season ticket holder Travis McManan isn’t going to let the relocation affect his loyalty to the Rays. “I’m a pretty hardcore baseball fan. If it’s Tampa, if it’s in St. Pete, if it’s in Orlando, as long as it’s a reasonable drive, I’m going to be right there,” McMahan said.

This year’s Fan Fest set a record attendance of over 17,000 people.

The first game of the season is scheduled for April 3rd. The Rays’ will take on the Toronto Blue Jays with a home field advantage.

Steinbrenner Field hosts Tampa, New York fans

On the corner of Dale Mabry Highway and Martin Luther King Boulevard, Tampa residents can enjoy America’s favorite pastime at George M. Steinbrenner Field.

Opened in 1996, Steinbrenner Field is home to the minor league Tampa Yankees and the New York Yankees spring training season. Its original name was Legends Field and was renamed George M. Steinbrenner Field almost a decade later to honor former Yankees owner, George Michael Steinbrenner.

“Mr. Steinbrenner, I know, was a very big part of the Tampa Bay community,” said Matthew Gess, the assistant general manager to the Tampa Yankees. “A lot of things here are built and maybe were passed by him.”

Everywhere you go on the facilities bears a little bit of the city that never sleeps. At the front entrance, visitors can see the numbers of retired jerseys from some of the New York Yankees, shop for some memorabilia at the Legends Room store and even pay their respects to the 9/11 Memorial.

“Being that we’re related to the New York Yankees, we do get our share of it because across the bay is the Rays,” said Gess. “A lot of snowbirds come down from New York, so they’re in the area and that plays a huge part into it. I know they love their Yankees down here. They get to see them a little earlier here than their regular season.”

Those who are not New York Yankee’s fans, but are still loyal to Tampa’s baseball teams, can check out the Tampa Yankees at Steinbrenner Field. Tampa’s minor league team plays at the facilities throughout the summer, attracting fans from all over the city.

“I know they like our affordability, our prices and the fact that we’re an open-air stadium and we’re outside,” said Jessica Lack, the digital/social media and community relations coordinator. “It’s just such a fun atmosphere here with all those kids cheering and everything.”

Kids are some of the Tampa Yankee’s biggest fans. The field hosts Kids Day Wednesdays, where local Hillsborough schools are invited to the stadium and students receive a free ticket and meal from the concession stands.

“The kids are gold,” said Lee Buese, a camera operator for the Tampa Yankees. “It really epitomizes the good times that the rest of the people have.”

Steinbrenner Field also hosts a variety of charity events throughout the year to give back to the Tampa bay community. Some of these events include Autism Awareness, Striking Out Cancer, Everyday Heroes and the Children’s Home of Tampa Bay.

“We do a lot of theme nights that give back to the charities to attract people to come,” Lack said. “Coming up next week we’re doing our Fight for Kids Night for a child who has stage four cancer.”

Tickets are on sale for Tampa Yankee’s games. For more about Steinbrenner Field, the Tampa Yankees and the New York Yankees spring training, visit steinbrennerfield.com.

Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 10.25.56 AM Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 10.25.46 AM Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 10.25.22 AM Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 10.24.59 AM Screen Shot 2015-04-24 at 10.24.47 AM

Former MLB hopeful Christopher Reynoso pursues career as a firefighter

 

RIVERVIEW — Christopher Reynoso is far from  your average 22-year-old. He can’t remember the first time he played baseball, but many of  his fondest memories revolve around the sport. He often spent his afternoons playing baseball with his friends and going to Yankee games with his grandfather.

‪Reynoso played for school baseball teams for years and was offered a full scholarship to Wabash Valley College in Illinois. After a year in school, he received a call from the Diamondbacks organization. They were interested in recruiting him to play for the Pittsburgh Pirates, and a scout came to see a few of his games.

“He came up to me and asked if I was interested in becoming part of the organization,” Reynoso said.

‪Becoming a Major League Baseball player was Reynoso’s lifelong dream. Unfortunately, his dreams were dashed.

‪“After a few months of strenuous activities and overuse, my shoulder decided to give out on me” Reynoso said.

Reynoso sought medical assistance, but no one could figure out what was wrong with his shoulder. His professional baseball career vanished.

‪Reynoso decided to pursue a different dream–becoming a firefighter. He is an EMT and is going to fire school, where he has learned many new and interesting things.

‪”He called me one day and he told me basically that he had to try and resuscitate an already deceased person,” Reynoso’s best friend Josh Fernandez said.

‪Reynoso is satisfied with the turn his life has taken and is determined to reach his new goal.