Thursday, July 15, 2010

13u Royals aiming for Koufax crown

Friday, the Lansingburgh Royals 13-and-under baseball team begins play in the Upper New York State Sandy Koufax Tournament in Valley Falls. This team has been building for the future for quite some time...and they believe the future is now.

Connor McDonough (red helmet) leads off first base as Jarred Jarosz holds him on during practice Thursday afternoon at Turnpike Elementary School. (Photo by J.S. Carras - The Record).

For all of the baseball experience the members of the Lansingburgh Royals 13-and-under baseball team might have, they still have to be individually reminded to bring their bug spray and sunscreen, which was exactly what happened prior to Thursday’s practice at Turnpike Elementary School.

Elijah Burns, Luke Fane, Jarred Jarosz and Connor McDonough, all of whom played on the team last summer as 12-year-olds, might be just one year removed from Little League, but they’ve already got big league expectations.

“We all started out together and played all-stars together,” said Jarosz, the team’s leading strikeout artist on the mound. “We’re all from around here, so we all know each other and have team chemistry together and stuff like that.”

Today, the Royals begin play in the Upper New York State Sandy Koufax Tournament at Chapko-Lewis Stadium in Valley Falls. The Royals, by way of a random draw, received a first round bye Thursday.

Tim McDonough and Eric Kennedy, who split different aspects of the head coaching duties, both played for the Royals in their younger days and they’re looking to pass on the tradition of Lansingburgh baseball to the next generation.

Lansingburgh Royals 13-and-under co-head coach Eric Kennedy points something out during Thursday's practice. Kennedy played for the Royals as a youth and graduated from Lansingburgh High School in 2008.

In fact, they’ve teamed up yet again with assistant Vic Begin, who also helped with Knickerbacker Middle School’s modified team this spring. That team went 13-0 in league play and won the Colonial Council regular season championship.

Most of those players compete with the Royals in the summer and look up to coaches like Kennedy, who played in six state tournaments during his Royals tenure.

“Honestly, I think the kids really relate to me a lot better. I’m still young,” said Kennedy. “I’m old enough to be their coach, but I’m still a kid. I have fun with these guys, joke around and lighten them up so they don’t play so tense.”

Kennedy (pictured above) graduated from Lansingburgh High School in 2008 and recently finished his two-year program at Hudson Valley Community College. He’ll head to SUNY-Cortland in the fall to pursue his degree in physical education.

"You have to give him a lot of credit," coach McDonough said. "He doesn’t have to be here. And the modified team, he didn’t have to do that. He could just be worried about a job, his girlfriend and college. He gives it 100%."

The coaching staff have put the group through a great deal since January. Saturday nights, they headed to the Hayner Brothers complex in Halfmoon. Sunday morning, it was time for a conditioning session with Mike Grasso and the Lansingburgh Boys & Girls Club. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, they hit the weight room.

The schedule has been tough on Kennedy, who could certainly be doing other things with his time.

"Honestly, my friends get a little angry," he said. "They have to wait for me for us to go do something, like play basketball. They’re always waiting around for me, saying, ‘won’t this season just get over with?’

"But I enjoy it. This is my commitment and this is what I want to do with my life," he continued.
"I’m going to be going into phys ed and I want to be a coach and this is a good start and this helps my future."

Still, many of the players continue to excel in other sports. A large chunk of the team will also play soccer for the Knights this fall.

"I played Royals. I played high school. All my life, I’ve played baseball," said Kennedy. "It’s just something I love. I got into modified two years ago and volunteered here two years ago. I loved this group of kids here. They’re the ones that make me come back. They’re just a special group."

Royals players and coaches work on a baserunning drill during Thursday's practice on the Turnpike Elementary School field.

“With the great variety of coaches we have, it’s easier to interact and connect with the coaches,” said imposing first baseman Elijah Burns, who towers over his teammates. “It’s much easier than having one coach or two coaches.”

Burns, who lives two houses across the Lansingburgh border into the Troy High School district, will attend La Salle Institute this fall and plays basketball during the winter months.

Jarred Jarosz, left, and Elijah Burns, right, talk about their hopes for the upcoming Sandy Koufax Tournament prior to Thursday's practice.

One issue for the Royals in this upcoming tournament will be a dimensions shift. During the modified season, the players competed on a standard 90-foot diamond and threw off a mound 60 feet, six inches away. Now, the bases are 80 feet apart and the pitcher's mound is a mere 54 feet away.

The transition to modified ball was tough on the baserunners, coach McDonough said. A number of runners were picked off early in the year, trying to get a feel for just how big of a lead they could take without being caught.

McDonough, 49, watched his three older daughters – righthanded hitters all - play softball and twisted his son, Connor, into a lefthanded hitter at a young age. He hit .458 and stole 33 bases through 23 games. The Royals finished 12-11 in the regular season playing against teams from much larger towns such as Clifton Park, Colonie and Guilderland.

Connor McDonough ponders an answer to a question at the Lansingburgh Royals practice Thursday.

“I tried righty before, but it’s just not natural for me,” the younger McDonough, the Royals’ leadoff hitter and centerfielder, said, blinking through his glasses. “It’s a lot easier lefty, I think.”

McDonough played 94 baseball games in 2009, getting over 400 at-bats. His father said that has made Connor become a much better hitter. The rest of the players agree that the extra effort has paid off.

“It’s just hard work,” said Burns. “If you keep working at it, you get better.”

If Lansingburgh does not win the Upper New York State Tournament this weekend, it will have the option of playing in the Empire Tournament, which features mostly Suburban Council-town teams. The Royals may have experience on and off the field, but they’ve also got the competitive spirit that comes with constantly being viewed as the underdog.

“We just have to go out and play as well as we can and take it game-by-game and try to win it, said Jarosz. “If we don’t, we’re still going to have fun doing it. We have another tournament after this, so we’re going to win one of them. We’re going to try.”

"With the Royals, we really try to develop them as soon as we can, as young as they can," Kennedy said. "These guys will work hard. These guys will run through a brick wall for you. They are hard-working kids who want to get better. Whatever you give them, they’ll take that and absorb it.

"And one day, I think this team will be playing for a state championship in high school, I really do," Kennedy continued. "They’re just always working hard, 110%. They just never quit."

Lansingburgh Royals 13u Hitting and Pitching 2010

In other news, to read an article Andrew Santillo wrote on the first class in the Capital District High School Football Hall of Fame that ran in Thursday's paper, click here.

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