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There’s a reason Manny Delcarmen’s name is being floated about a potential return to Boston, and that’s because you can never discount a favorite son returning home. The Hyde Park native and West Roxbury High School graduate was a second-round draft pick by Boston in 2000. The pick made Delcarmen the first draftee from a Boston public high school in 34 years and he made his big-league debut for the Sox on July 26, 2005 against the Rays in Tampa. Anything that Delcarmen would do from that point on would be closely watched by local inner-city kids, hoping to follow his path.
Delcarmen has roots in South End Baseball’s Boston Astros, an experience that he said, “…changed my life and this is the best program in Boston right now, and I hope it gets stronger.” He recently returned for a fundraiser on opening night 2009, an event that also drew former Astros players like Minnesota Twins prospect Juan Carlos Portes and Celtics legend Tommy Heinsohn (who obviously was not an Astro). Everybody from Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd to Luis Tiant or Nate Robinson and CC Sabathia have been seen around South End Baseball events, whether they be fundraisers or the games themselves. It wasn’t always this high-profile, however, and despite the league’s small beginnings, South End Baseball has sprung so many great stories, on the diamond and away from it.
It’s hard to imagine that as recently as 1987, there was no youth baseball program in the South End and Lower Roxbury. None. Current police officer and long-time South Ender Jose Ruiz changed that with the inception of South End Baseball, a league of just six teams at the time. Current Commissioner Owen Carlson took over two years later and in the 23 years since, South End Baseball has clearly filled a necessary void in the City of Boston, growing exponentially. It’s tentacles now reach tony neighborhoods such as Back Bay and Beacon Hill, and Chinatown, Roxbury, and the South End continue to be well represented across SEB. Imagine this; the league currently offers Rookie Ball (ages 4-7), Minor League (7-9), Major League (10-12) Senior League (13-15) and the Wood Bat League (16-18) for boys, and softball for girls (up to 18 years old), along with all-star and tournament teams for various age groups.
It can be argued that Ruiz birthed one of the most positive-impacting devices in the community with his humble baseball league. As a testament to that, SEB Executive Director and head of fundraising Paul Rinkulis urged the South End News to contact many of the league’s former players to find out their success stories. He knew how many there were. Reporter Kate Vander Wiede could have went to the top and grabbed a blockquote from Delcarmen. She instead looked up a handful of local guys, all whose stories are as intriguing as Delcarmen’s, and just as successful.
What do politics have to do with baseball? For At-Large Boston City Councilor Felix Arroyo, probably everything.
“I remember as a young person the adults putting their time into me,” Arroyo says. “That is something that stuck for me. … I hope the kids I coach have good stories to tell about me one day.”
Arroyo still serves as coach in Jamaica Plain for teenagers, many of whom welcome the positive role model the way he looked up to his coaches. SEB propelled him from Villa Victoria to the University of Massachusetts-Boston, and then on to coaching. His propensity for giving back naturally led him to public service, where he said he’d serve “as long as voters would have [him].”
Manny Soto settled into the South End after several moves and a stay in a Beverly shelter. While attending the Blackstone Elementary School, he learned about SEB and immediately got on a team. His abilities allowed him to move on to Cushing Academy and currently Endicott College where he plays football. His team won the New England Football Conference championship this fall and landed a spot in the NCAA Division III playoffs, later losing to 17th-ranked SUNY Cortland. He still remembers his most successful day playing in the South End, the day he hit his only career home run. “I was 12. We were in a playoff game against the Marlins,” Soto, a sophomore told the South End News. “We were down three runs, bases loaded, a 3-2 count-and I hit a grand slam home run.”
Jason Burell grew up in the Lenox Park Housing Development and is now about to graduate from UMass-Amherst.
“At that time, in the 1990s, there was a lot of violence in the South End. Guns, drugs, a high rate of crime,” Burrell says.
“My friends and I loved waking up at eight in the morning to go to practice, and at six in the morning to go to tournaments,” he continued. “We never knew that was teaching us life skills.” That’s the thing about baseball, and sports in general. They teach kids to work together and sometimes, just as importantly, they simply provide something to do. Before 1987, there wasn’t much and getting sucked in to the perils of urban living was easy.
I recently bumped into Rinkulis at a coffee shop in the South End, making the rounds as he so often does. When I asked him for a quote for this story, all he could do was keep the program in mind. “Make sure you tell them we can always use volunteers and give a link to the website,” he said. That’s all he asks, just keep giving back because the rewards will return in droves. You can get more information about South End Baseball or donate at: South End Baseball. If you live in the area, share it with everyone you know. At the very least, get out and check out a game sometime next Spring. You never know who might be there or who you might be watching.