By John Bassetti
Youngstown Police Athletic League is working to get youth leagues back on city fields.
YOUNGSTOWN — Although it will never reach the numbers and popularity of its past, youth baseball in the city is attempting to slowly gain a foothold for the future.
One man making a difference in that effort is Victor Morales, a samaritan for kids’ safety.
As president of the Youngstown Baseball Association, Morales has joined forces with the relatively new Youngstown Police Athletic League to help revive inner-city youth baseball and softball.
“YPAL has made a big difference this year,” Morales said of support for the YBA, which followed the Uptown Kiwanis League’s demise.
“We used to have over 1,000 kids,” Morales said of the best years when he was a YBA vice-president. Then, due to illness in 1999, he had to drop out of the league that played at Gibson Field.
Morales was unaware that the league had disbanded during his absence.
“That’s when I wanted to get back in it because the kids had nowhere to go,” he said.
Morales, former community center director at the Salvation Army on Glenwood Avenue, said he was contacted by YPAL a few months ago.
“They called me because they wanted help in the transition of their basketball league to baseball,” Morales said of contact with YPAL’s Ed Colon.
“YBA didn’t have much funding and very few sponsors, so YPAL agreed to help us with insurance. Now, we’re getting equipment with their help and we’ve got police officers who are going to be coaches.”
The YBA and YPAL distributed 6,000 fliers with registration and volunteer applications in city schools, and also in city hall and locations such as head start centers and the Mahoning-Youngstown Community Action Partnership office — one of the league’s support organizations, along with the park and recreation department.
Because Morales has only a little more than 120 players registered, he’s conducting walk-in sign-up sessions through the end of April.
“It seems the inner-city can’t get many kids out, so that’s why we’re doing what we’re doing with free registration, trying to get the kids involved,” he said.
Morales, enlisting the help of his wife, will continue to register youth at the Salvation Army Saturdays from 1 to 4 p.m.
Suffice it to say that Morales is trying to put everything on his own shoulders.
“I don’t want to leave no kids out, that’s why,” he said.
Morales would like players to get in a three- or four-week practice period in anticipation of a mid-May opener.
Practices and games will be at West End fields on North Hazelwood Avenue.
Since Morales returned to revive the league three years ago, participation growth has been slow.
The East Side Kiwanis, Union Baptist Church and C.C.E. were a few of the sponsors last year.
Morales’ son, Victor Morales Jr., also sponsored a team last year.
“He wanted it named the U.S. Army,” Victor said of his enlisted son, who is stationed in Hawaii.
A younger son, Joe, played on the Youngstown Babe Ruth team that was 13-year-old World Series champion in Massachusetts in 2002.
Victor Morales, who was a recent recipient of a proclamation from the city for working with inner-city youth, is now disabled with kidney problems.
But it hasn’t stopped him.
“We had a good season and got a lot of parent support last year,” Morales said the 2007 season that attracted 200 participants at Gibson Field.
“Mayor [Jay] Williams came down to our picnic and the kids enjoyed that. We were able to take the whole league to a Pirates game,” he said of a treat from city council and then-6th Ward councilman Paul Pancoe.
Because of its new affiliation, the Youngstown Baseball Association is now known as YPAL Baseball.
Not only does city youth baseball and softball have a new name, but a new field and a new look.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to compete with other communities down the line,” Morales said of the league that, eventually, may serve as a feeder system for city high schools.
“Lord knows they need it.”