Their own fields of dreams

by |
07/15/2010 12:00 AM |

The Mattituck Mets on parade at the Cooperstown Dreams Park, a baseball camp they attended in June near the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Many a young baseball player dreams of one day making it to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The wait wasn’t long for members of the Mattituck Mets, a youth team whose members got there by the age of 10.

True, they weren’t there to be enshrined in the hall, but they did tour it during a weeklong stay at a Little League-level fantasy baseball camp outside Cooperstown in June.

“They had a blast,” said Tom Scalia of Cutchogue. His son, Jason, 9, has been playing for three years with the Mattituck Mets, a National Junior Baseball League team, which plays all over Long Island. The league also includes the Southold Hitmen and the Peconic Lions.

The trip to the Cooperstown Dreams Park, a privately owned youth baseball camp not affiliated with the Hall of Fame, was several years in the works but well worth the wait, said Mattituck Mets coach Dennis Heffernan of Cutchogue. His son, Matthew, is part of the team. The kids on his team started playing together at age 7 and started raising funds for the trip the following year. At $745 a player, it was not cheap, but their sidewalk raffle sales succeeded in covering costs for 12 kids and five coaches.

“It was a large task, but what’s great about it is having 12 families on board with the same vision,” said Mr. Heffernan.

Similar baseball camps can be found across the country, “but this is the granddaddy of them all,” said Mr. Heffernan. “It’s a weeklong tournament, the kids stay on site and everything is included, home and away uniforms, even warmup jackets. All you need to bring is your mitt, your bat and your helmet.”

These Mets were in competition with 95 other teams Mr. Heffernan described as among the nation’s best in the 10-year-old bracket. They played two games a day in one of 22 lighted fields and a small stadium.

“Each field is just as immaculate as the next,” he said. “These are the best fields the kids ever played on.”

The team finished with a .500 record, but winning wasn’t a priority. “We go into every season hoping to win the league,” the coach said. “But this wasn’t about winning, this was an experience for the boys. We made sure everyone played an equal amount of time.”

The boys went up against teams from as far away as Florida and California, said Mr. Scalia. “The competition was unbelievable,” he said.

They made it to the second round of the playoffs before being knocked out.

Even so, “My son absolutely loved it,” the coach Heffernan said. “He can’t stop talking about it.”

The players stayed in barracks-like accommodations, similar to an Olympics village, not open to their parents. Girls had their own section. Each of the 1,200 players brought about 100 team pins and they spent much of their spare time, including mealtime under a huge tent, swapping them.

The parents either got hotel rooms or shared rental homes. Food was the big bargain.

“If you go to a major league game, you could drop $100 on food,” said the coach. “But there a hotdog is a dollar and a soda is a dollar.”

It was, to Mr. Heffernan, “wall to wall fun. I’ve never seen so many smiling faces on 10-year-old kids. I knew it was going to be nice up there, but the whole thing was phenomenal. They bent over backwards to make 10-year-olds feel really important.”

When the team reaches the 12-year-old level, it may enter another high-profile out-of-town tournament, such as the one held at DisneyWorld, the coach said.

When they weren’t playing ball in Cooperstown, the boys and their parents got to stroll through the Hall of Fame. Jason Scalia, who just finished fourth grade, had no idea that Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia’s size 15 cleats are the largest in the major league, a fact he discovered there.

The Mattituck Mets will hold a spot in a hall of fame, of sorts. When planning for the trip, they had shirts made up with “Mattituck Mets” on the front and “On the road to Cooperstown” on the back. A framed shirt signed by the players was presented to the Dreams Park for inclusion in their own planned hall of fame.

“When they’re older, the kids can come back, see it and say, ‘We were there,” said Mr. Heffernan. “In a way, they’re part of history.”

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