Utica's Ed Hinko Baseball League A Throwback
With the Little League World Series under way, TV viewers are getting their annual reminder that youth baseball has moved far away from the sandlot. But for Utica’s boys of summer in Central New York, there’s a baseball league that’s a throwback to a simpler time.
A crack of a bat and the roar of a crowd are sure signs of summer. Youth baseball leagues are plentiful in almost every area in the United States and some draw in quite a bit of revenue for those organizations. But for the Ed Hinko League in Utica, New York, the only motive is teaching and playing baseball.
Mel Albrecht is the man in charge.
“They all come here and play ball," he says. "They don’t sit on the bench. They come through that gate, they know they’re going to play that game."
The Ed Hinko Baseball League, now celebrating 20 years in operation, is an independent league for 13- to 17-year-olds where nobody gets cut and everybody plays, all under rules that they use in the majors rather than in Little League or Legion baseball.
The league has been run by Albrecht and his wife Sandy since its inception and has established the joy of sandlot baseball, with the added benefits of a baseball diamond.
Mel and Sandy wear all the hats in running the league, from grounds-keeping, to selling concessions, to maintainance. Albrecht took over a field that had fallen deep into disrepair, a “jungle.” He keeps a black notebook filled with Polaroids depicting broken fences, flooded fields and facilities long overdue for an overhaul.
While the infield still might produce a bad hop or two, through hard work and the help of volunteers, Mel has turned it into a field that’s good enough for dreams.
"It gets hard for me," he says. "It ain't easy. The field, when it rains, it gets muddy and all that."
That dedication has impressed players, parents and coaches like Jim George.
"I'm amazed that Mel, for a guy his age and physical condition," he says, "it's amazing what the guy does."
George has been coaching in the Ed Hinko League for a decade. Despite the field being city-owned, he has seen little help with its maintenance by the Utica city government.
"We've been after the city now for the entire time I've been here, just for a truckload of infield dirt."
But that hasn’t kept the kids from getting better. For some, the improvement is dramatic.
"I took the kid, he couldn't catch a ball, he couldn't throw a ball, and I think if God came here on earth and miracle him the ability to hit a ball, he wouldn't be able to. And our last game, he jacked his first home run."
Despite the lack of outside help, the league has become a haven for the kids who play in it.
"Some kids I've had, this is their life. They work through the offseason too because they've got nothing else to do."
For a child aged 13 to 17 with the desire to play baseball, the Ed Hinko Baseball League is something that can add some excitement to a lazy summer day.
The New York Reporting Project at Utica College can be found at www.nyrp-uc.org