Baseball is prominent in the Scottsdale area, especially during the spring months.
Throughout February, March and April, each level from Little League to professional baseball start up their seasons and practice within minutes of each other.
Both Chaparral High School and Old Scottsdale Youth Baseball play the same sport but the way they approach the game is different and unique.
Chaparral High School
Looming over centerfield at Jerry Dawson Field at Chaparral High School are the accomplishments of past Firebird baseball teams.
Among those successes represented above the centerfield wall are the team’s 10 state titles and along the entire outfield wall are the numbers of Firebirds past.
This legacy may seem like a lot of pressure to live up to but All-Division infielder Jacob Gonzalez does not see it that way.
“I think it’s something we embrace and we try to use it to our advantage,” he said in a March 2 interview. “Some teams come in here and look up at the board and it can be intimidating when you are on the other side.”
Chaparral baseball found its success thanks to the school’s first head coach Jerry Dawson. Coach Dawson spent 37 years with the school before retiring in 2010.
Sam Messina was then dubbed head coach after three years as an assistant to Coach Dawson and won two state championships of his own. He has not had a losing season since he started.
This season, the Firebirds have their sights set on another state championship and prior to March 3, the team was 4–0–1 including preseason tournaments.
Coach Messina said the team has played host to several major colleges and even a few pro teams scouting some of his players.
He said some have already committed, such as Gonzalez with TCU, while others still haven’t yet decided.
While he does worry the exposure might be a bit overwhelming for his players, he had decided to embrace the attention rather than flee from it.
“I think it adds excitement to our program, I think it’s something we need to embrace,” Coach Messina said in a March 2 interview.
Coach Messina credits having good players and the groundwork Coach Dawson built as being key to his success. He spent three years as an assistant to Coach Dawson prior to his retirement.
“The expectation for the young men is they learn how to compete and learn how to work,” Coach Messina said.
“That’s probably what I’m most proud about are the kids that come out of our program that are able to compete, able to work and (that I’m) helping them to grow.”
Coach Messina does not think that hard work only applies to the baseball diamond.
The student-athletes have a lot of different responsibilities on their plates such as school, preparing for college academics and searching for jobs, among others.
Gonzalez said the biggest challenge he faces his trying to balance schoolwork and baseball, but it is a skill he has developed over time.
“Once you get used to it, they’re very helpful here if you need help in a class,” he said. “You can get tutoring and stuff like that. There’s plenty of opportunities to try and take as much of that pressure off you as you can.”
Coach Messina said he hopes his efforts as a baseball coach help push those student-athletes to apply the lessons they learn in baseball to other aspects of their lives.
“My goal as an educator and a coach is to try and help set these young men up for success or put them in a position to be successful,” he said.
Old Scottsdale Youth Baseball
In order for any baseball player to be successful, they need a solid beginning to learn and grow and the Old Scottsdale Youth Baseball league seeks to do just that.
The nonprofit league offers several divisions for children ages six to 14 to compete in and each division attempts to cater to its age group.
The 6U division features tee ball and coach pitch. Machine pitch is introduced in the 8U division while kid pitch happens in the 10U, 12U and 14U divisions.
The league runs from late February to early May and practices at Pima Elementary School at 8330 E. Osborn Road in Scottsdale.
OSYB is affiliated with PONY or Protect Our Nation’s Youth, which is different than the Little League system.
OSYB president Tony Coletta said the league had been around for a long time but became officially incorporated in 1989 and switched from Little League to PONY in 2003.
“In the grand scheme of things, it’s a lot different than Little League and that is one of the reasons why they (made the switch),” he said in a March 1 phone interview.
“Little League has a lot of its own rules and ways they play baseball. There’s not stealing, per se, or lead-offs. There’s just a lot of different things how Little League plays baseball and that’s fine, but what the directors wanted to do at that time was to play as they termed it ‘real baseball’ and that’s where PONY came in.”
Mr. Coletta — a self-proclaimed “baseball junkie” — has been president of the league for about a year, but has served in other prominent roles such as a coach and vice president during his six years with the league.
Aside from his OSYB responsibilities, Mr. Coletta engrosses himself in baseball from following his favorite team of the Cleveland Indians to seeing a game in every MLB stadium.
“I’m very passionate about things and baseball, OSYB and being president of this league are passions of mine,” he said.
Looking at the league from a competitive standpoint, Mr. Coletta said he wants to not only help the young athletes have success on the diamond, but also to be good kids, students and potential role models later in their lives.
From a president standpoint, Mr. Coletta said he wants to keep helping the league grow.
“That’s been my goal for the last two years, to try and bring our league back to where it used to be in its glory days,” he said.
Mr. Coletta ’s efforts are paying dividends, especially for Ellen Young, a parent of a OSYB player.
One benefit she has seen is her oldest son growing in confidence the more he played baseball, teaching him to work through hard situations in baseball and life.
Ms. Young also thinks youth baseball provides, what she calls, a “pure social and fun aspect” and it helps to teach the children to encourage, support, laugh and fail together.
She credits coaches for the good experiences her children have had in youth baseball because her children have been fortunate enough to play for good coaches.
“I can say that, especially at OSYB, the kids come off the field having learned more and having fun at the same time, which is exactly why youth baseball is such a priority for my family,” she said in a March 2 email response.
News Services Reporter Josh Martinez can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 623-445-2738