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For the love of baseball

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As cold winter days begrudgingly turn into spring, parishioners of St. William of York Church in Stafford are gearing up for the third season of St. William of York Baseball, a league on a mission to unite the parish community, foster Christian sportsmanship and help boys and girls develop the skills they need to enjoy America's favorite pastime.

The league was started three years ago through the efforts of parishioner Ken Reuwer, an avid Baltimore Orioles fan. For Reuwer, baseball is a way to teach kids how to be both competitive athletes and gracious losers, something that he feels is becoming harder to find in today's sports culture.

Reuwer has brought his love of baseball to each new community his work has taken him. If they didn't have a league when he arrived, there would be one before he left. Such was the case in 2012 when he and his family arrived in Stafford. Reuwer set his sights on the overgrown baseball field behind the parish school, and presented a plan to the parish for cleaning up the field and starting a league. His idea was met with enthusiastic approval from Father Robert J. DeMartino, pastor, and school Principal Frank Nicely. On a cold March day in 2014, Reuwer and more than 40 parents stormed the field armed with wheelbarrows and rakes to clean up their field of dreams. This "Field Prep" day has since become an annual tradition involving volunteers of all ages pitching in to get the field ready for each new season.

Over the past two years, the league has experienced homerun success, which Reuwer attributes to the involvement of the parents and the quality of the players. The league has fostered friendships between children and parents from the parish school, homeschool community and religious education program.

On and off the field, the league promotes a faith-filled, family-friendly environment with zero tolerance for unsportsmanlike behavior. Reuwer and the other coaches also strive to challenge the players in a way that is both healthy and age appropriate. They love seeing the kids gain the confidence they need to go from T-ball to coach pitch by the end of the season.

Reuwer recalled one game when a determined young batter, Dante Mazzarini, came to the plate.

"It was the last inning with two outs. He had just struck out twice with coach pitch, and I asked if he wanted to hit from the tee," said Reuwer. "Mazzarini said, 'No coach, I want the pitch.'" Reuwer pitched the ball, and, to his surprise, the little guy wacked it to the outfield and won the game.

The league also works hard to include players with special needs.

"Some leagues are afraid to include these kids, saying they need a special league. Well, we are a special league," said Reuwer.

Andrew, a boy with Down syndrome, plays. Although Reuwer said he rarely got on base, he was supported constantly by his teammates.

"One year he (got) up and after about seven or 12 swings, smacked the heck out of the ball," said Reuwer. "But because the boy wasn't used to running to first base he started going to third. The team threw the ball to the third baseman who realized what was happening. Instead of tagging him, the third baseman held the ball telling Andrew to run to first base."

That player's good sportsmanship and Andrew's victory are the essence of the SWOY baseball league, which has helped efforts to unite the community.

"It has brought together the entire parish as one big family more than ever," said Nicely.

This year's season will open with a special Mass and blessing of all the coaches and players by Father DeMartino Friday, April 1. The next day, 90 kids will take to the field dressed in Angels, Padres, Cardinals and Orioles uniforms as a new season begins that is sure to be full of big wins, family fun and Catholic faith.

Find out more

For information about starting a league at your parish contact Ken Reuwer at swoybb@gmail.com

Buyers can be reached at abuyers@catholicherald.com

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016