Volunteers go to bat to make tournament a hit

Babe Ruth championshipBabe Ruth tournament organizers Rosemary Spataro and Ed Graham sport their Niskayuna Red. Photo by Rebecca Isenhart
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Niskayuna players Nick Insognia, left, and Sean Barry, share a laugh while watching a game go into extra innings at Blatnick Park in Niskayuna Tuesday. The hosts were waiting to play their Mid-Atlantic Babe Ruth regional semifinal matchup. Photo by Peter R. Barber/Gazette Photographer

BY REBECCA ISENHART
Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA — The Niskayuna Warriors made an impressive showing at the Babe Ruth Mid-Atlantic Regional Tournament during the first week of August, but they had help earning their chance to shine.

Although the team did not win the state championship this year, its members and their families hosted the tournament on the Upper Fields of Blatnick Park, which allowed the team to advance to the next level of play anyway.

According to league rules, teams that host regional tournaments automatically get to play, as do the runner-up from their region. That means agreeing to host the tournament earned a spot for the Babe Ruth team from Rotterdam, as well.

Niskayuna also hosted the tournament in 2013, and the team’s parents hadn’t initially planned to do it twice in a row. Another team from the Mid-Atlantic Region backed out, though, and coach Tom Spataro saved the day — by volunteering his wife, Rosemary, to oversee the tournament’s operations.

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Babe Ruth tournament organizers Rosemary Spataro and Ed Graham sport their Niskayuna Red. Photo by Rebecca Isenhart

For Rosemary Spataro, a first-grade teacher at Craig Elementary School, calling summer recess a vacation may not be entirely accurate. As it turns out, running a regional tournament is a pretty enormous undertaking.

The Monday before the tournament began, Spataro had 147 emails before 8 a.m. That’s hardly a surprise considering her role requires her to be the point person for ten Babe Ruth teams, seven of which had to travel to the area for the tournament. She oversees grounds maintenance, volunteers, the concession stand, the website, parking, traffic flow — pretty much everything but the weather (although she has a contingency plan for that, too).

“You fall asleep because you’re so exhausted,” she said. “Then you wake up at 4 a.m. worrying about schedules.”

Luckily, Spataro has the help of last year’s co-organizers and a team of hardworking volunteers. Building on last year’s tournament program, which they moved to an online format; field management; and especially their concession stand.

“It’s a lot of money,” Spataro said. “According to Babe Ruth rules, we pay for everything: chalk [for the field], umpires, balls, spray paint.”

And the list goes on. It’s impossible to exactly note the price of the competition because many sponsors donated items like food and tents, rather than making financial donations. But Spataro said she thinks the total cost comes to between $10,000 and $15,000.

It may seem rough for one team to foot the bill alone, but for regional tournaments most teams have to spend quite a bit of cash to travel to, and stay at, the tournament. This year’s regional event was six days long.

“For some families, this is their big vacation,” said Ed Graham, a team parent and last year’s co-chairman for the tournament.

At the World Series, local families host visiting players, but for the regional tournaments, families have to find their own lodging and food. This is wonderful for local businesses; one team alone spent $400 at Uncle Rico’s Pizza, a tournament sponsor, and families are making the most of regional attractions like Six Flags Great Escape.

It can be tough on individuals’ wallets, though, so the league doesn’t allow hosts to ask for any additional financial contribution from visiting teams.

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An aerial view of the Upper Fields at Blatnick Park is seen after lots of grooming. Photo courtesy of GND studios/bigleaguepics.com.

CONCESSIONS ARE KEY

Because of the competition’s high price, the tournament’s main money-maker, the concession stand, is crucial. After noticing that people tended to get tired of hot dogs and hamburgers last year, the volunteers reached out to local restaurants and asked them to donate or negotiate prices on comfort-food dinner options like macaroni and cheese, pulled pork and meatballs.

Debbie Toy, a school social worker whose son, Matthew, plays catcher for the Niskayuna Warriors, ran the grill as part of the concession stand operation for most of the tournament. She lent her planning skills beforehand, as well.

“The week before is almost as much work as the week of [the tournament],” she said. “People work pretty tirelessly that week.

“We’re all happy to do it, and we’ll all be happy when it’s done,” she added.

Regardless of the personal toll the tournament takes on her energy, Toy said she’ll volunteer again next year, the final year her son will be eligible for the team. He wants to play baseball in college, and she wants him to succeed.

“I do it because he enjoys it,” Toy said. “Since he was 8 years old he could play baseball morning, noon and night.”

Other parents echoed Toy’s mantra: they put the work in because it means a lot to their kids.

“It’s baseball, but it’s so much bigger than baseball for the players,” Graham said.