Friday, August 4, 2017

Everybody Loves to Win

Story and Photographs by Kristin O’Grady.

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – The sweet smell of competition hung in the air on Thursday July 27 as the Syracuse Chiefs seized a victory from the Louisville Bats. Outfielder Alejandro De Aza’s walk-off home run solidified a two-game winning streak for the then 37-66 Chiefs. 

The professional athletes were not the only ones in the ballpark looking to triumph in Syracuse. Little League teams participating in the 2017 Akadema Summer Classic Baseball Tournament enjoyed a night out at NBT Bank Stadium before the competition was scheduled to commence on the following day.

11U Waterloo Lightning
The 11U Waterloo Lightning spent their evening running from the upper deck to the field-level seats and back, shouting players' praises and competing for autographs.

Dan Acquilano, assistant coach of the Lightning, was excited to lead his first-year travel team, including his son Aidan, into the highly anticipated tournament.

“We are here to try to get Waterloo Little League in better shape for competition,” Acquilano said. “We missed regional championships by one game, and we are trying to get the team to be a little more competitive.”

12U Pulaski Red Devils
Sponsored by sporting goods manufacturer Akadema and presented by Champions Events, the Akadema Summer Classic hosted 49 teams from the Northeast and Canada and was set to run from Friday July 28 until Sunday July 30. With a primary goal to “give, educate, and motivate,” According to its website, Champions Events strives to provide productive and meaningful opportunities for coaches and players to experience the value in playing baseball (

Members of the 12U Pulaski Red Devils could barely sit still during the 5th inning, and instead stood eagerly at the mezzanine railing to get a closer look at the game.

Robert Dye, head coach of the Red Devils, does not have children on the team, but said he coaches simply for the love of the game. He was enjoying the second-year team’s first collective experience at a Chiefs game, and hoped they could bring a trophy home to Pulaski at the end of the tournament. Dye sounded both eager and anxious about his team’s first game on July 28.

“The other teams—the team from Buffalo—they’re good,” Dye said. “But it’s mostly just for the kids to compete. It’s good competition for all of us.”

12U South Jefferson Blizzards
With his two sons on the 12U South Jefferson Blizzards, head coach Steven Widrik was ready to dive into the tournament for the first time. After three years of coaching, Widrik said he continues to find fulfillment in working closely with the kids.

“I think they are a great group,” Widrik said. “They are eager to learn and have made unbelievable progress over the last three years.”

Members of the 12U Central Lightning Strikes were happy to be at the game, and even happier to answer my interview questions. Not surprisingly, nearly everyone on the team told me that Aaron Judge is his favorite professional player.

12U Central New York Lightning Strikes
Doug Premo, head coach of the Lightning Strikes, possessed a great deal of confidence in his outspoken and energetic team. Although this was only the team’s first year playing together, Premo had lofty goals for the future. The Lightning Strikes were set to compete in the 2017 American Youth Baseball Hall of Fame Invitational Tournament at Cooperstown Dreams Park from Aug. 12 until Aug. 17 as one of 104 teams from across the United States. Premo saw the Akadema Summer Classic as good preparation for Cooperstown.

Below are photographic highlights from July 27—Syracuse Chiefs vs. Louisville Bats. Click on any photo to start slide show.

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