On a Bridgehampton Little League baseball field across from the childhood home of Boston Red Sox Hall-of-Famer Carl Yastrzemski on School Street, every summer Saturday around 40 to 60 young boys and girls ages 8 to 13 congregate to play baseball. With the games organized by age and skill level, play starts around 9 a.m., after the volunteers—mostly parents led by Steve Cooper—get the playing field into tip-top shape. That may mean raking, that may mean sweeping away puddles or that may mean just putting down the bases. There are always the sounds of joy as kids scramble to put on their mitts or find that special bat, then throw around the new “soft and safe” baseballs. This is timeless.
I remember my first organized baseball game and the thrill I felt to be included in the game that day. It was a huge moment for me. The fact that the great “Yaz” himself perhaps tossed the ball around with his buddies on this location when it was just open space is plausible. But Cooper explains that every child, boy or girl, is treated like a potential future Hall-of-Famer. The goal is to make every child have some sort of success that day with no emphasis on winning or losing but on learning skills and enjoying the many thrills that baseball offers. Cooper couldn’t hide his pride and excitement when talking about the enjoyment he gets with every game. His own son Theo and daughter Illy participate and his wife Sari, “is so very helpful” to Cooper and the program. He mentioned that celebrities like Kelly Ripa have stopped by to watch.
With Steve Post usually pitching and Cooper catching, the young future stars all get to bat, with no balls and strikes being called, so that every child gets a chance to hear that magical sound of the baseball bat hitting the pitched ball. Cooper said, “The thrill is watching them run the bases, because they are also thrilled!” The quasi-organized program (no uniforms or official teams) donates proceeds from the $100 per child/per season fee (after costs such as insurance are deducted) to the Bridgehampton Fire Department for use of the field.
Mitch Modell, of Modell’s Sporting Goods, once stopped by and ended up donating baseballs, bats, mitts and some other equipment. This just after driving by and admiring baseball in its youngest purest form! He also handed out $10 gift certificates to the youngsters. Cooper said that among the many who help every week he had to mention Andy Sieben, Steve Ehrilich and Larry Washington, along with Steve Post. The emphasis is: 1) You don’t have to be an area resident; 2) The games are open to both boys and girls of all different ages and skill sets; 3) Everybody plays, with no balls and strikes called, so everybody experiences some sort of success; 4) It’s a win-win, no-lose program.
The game of baseball is a true celebration of America, played on grass fields all over the country. Dads, moms, sons and daughters always understood the bonding of playing catch—in the yard, at the field or even the beach. The feeling that parents get when their children hit their first baseball in an organized situation is a lifetime thrill, as is the actual hit by the child. Steve Cooper explained that he inherited responsibility of maintaining the tradition of this particular game believing it has been going on “for around 20 years.” Hopefully it flourishes for many more.