Who would have known that North Buffalo was so devoted baseball and softball? It turns out that Shoshone Park is a hotbed for the All American Game… a sort of mecca if you will. I recently learned that Hertel North Park Youth Baseball & Softball (HNPYBL) is not only celebrating a 60 Year Anniversary, it’s also enjoying its highest attendance numbers in the history of the league. According to Travel Director Jim Daley, the organization was founded the same year that Dwight Eisenhower was president – 1957. Since that time, the league has grown by leaps and bounds, and today boasts 62 house teams!
I asked Daley why there has been such an uptick in the North Buffalo baseball scene, and he attributed it to the organization’s determination to emphasize the importance of the house league over the travel league. A lot of organizations tend to put the travel teams first. Daley is convinced that if an organization has a strong house league, they will have a stronger travel league.
The baseball side of the league is affiliated with the Babe Ruth Baseball League, which is a national youth organization.
So what’s all of this about house and travel leagues? Essentially, the house league allows players to play games in their own park. Every kid in the North Buffalo league must play games at home. In order for players to join the Travel Team, they must first play in the House League. The travel schedule must work around the house schedule, which is usually the other way around. This actually makes a lot of sense.
The kids get to feel more comfortable in a familiar sports setting before hitting the road to play other WNY teams. It shows a deep commitment to the home turf, and a stronger camaraderie between players. Seeing that there are 62 house teams, there’s a lot of action at Shoshone Park between tee-ball, Rookie, 2nd Minors, and 1st Minors. And that’s just the Little Leaguers playing on the 70′ diamonds. Add to that the Senior Ball (played on the Major League size 90′ diamond), and the 18 travel teams, and you’ve got yourself a beehive of activity on any given day.
The organization will be hosting 5 Babe Ruth State divisional tournaments in 2016.
While the dream of all of the younger players is to join up with the North Buffalo Wildcats (girls team), the North Buffalo Blaze (boys ages 8 to 15), and the North Buffalo Knights (boys ages 16 to 21), there are even loftier dreams in the heads of some of the players. When players reach the end of Little League, they have an opportunity to head to Cooperstown (home of the Baseball Hall of Fame), where they get to play in a national tournament. This is the crowning achievement of a Little League career. From there, they can move on to play Senior Ball if they choose to. Daley pointed out that one exceptional North Buffalo player even made it into the majors – Joe Winkelsas, who played for the Brewers, the White Sox and the Braves (in the 90s).
The league is co-founder of the Buffalo Cup tournament – a baseball and softball tournament for organizations that are housed in the City of Buffalo.
Altogether, the 898 boys and girls (ages 4-21) are able to play at Shoshone Park thanks to the dedication of an all-volunteer 18-member board.
“The league is an institution in North Buffalo,” said Don Morris, president of the HNPYBL since 1992. “People that have played in the league as kids bring there kids back even if they have moved to the suburbs. We always put the kids first and give them the best playing conditions. Over the years we have raised enough funds to light two diamonds so the kids can experience night games. We try to find the best coaches. We are a Babe Ruth affiliated league and have hosted many state tournaments in Buffalo. Our opening day parade is an event in North Buffalo, with many of the merchants standing along Hertel Avenue. We have had two players drafted by major league clubs. I love what we do, and apparently many others do as well, as this will be our biggest enrollment in league history.”
On Saturday May 7, at Shoshone Park, HNPYBL will celebrate its 60th Anniversary season 1957-2016, starting with a parade down Hertel Avenue at 11 am. Come join league president Don Morris, as he rallies coaches, players and families towards another dynamic, fun-filled season of North Buffalo baseball and softball.
Lead image: Second 2015 Senior League Champ Mets