If you happen to be one of those baseball lovers who believes in the game’s traditional values, you would love the opportunity to talk with Ike Goldstein of the Long Island Tigers. In an ever-unfolding era of youth baseball as big business, walking down a baseball-values memory lane with Ike and his coaches reminds us that the grand old values never die. After all, it is the grand old game, right?
In 1967 Emil Gaul formed the New York Sandlot, a team for city kids who otherwise might not have ever had a chance to play baseball. Over the years the team gradually moved east, becoming the Flushing Tigers at one point and later the Long Island Tigers. The Tigers fielded only one team of 18 year-olds, which was the norm back in the day of local league play. When Coach Ike was player Ike, Warren Almond, a scout for the Detroit Tigers, ran the tram. “As a scout, he was one of a breed. When he came to a game he didn’t just watch his player and then leave; he always stayed until the end. He believed that every player deserved to be seen. He always said that luck was when desire meets opportunity.”
Tom Hopke, also a long-time Tigers coach, played on the opposing Long Island Mets when Ike played for the Tigers. Long after their playing days ended, they met again through a mutual friend and both became Tigers coaches. Both men believed then, as they do now, that kids were meant to play baseball for the fun and comradeship of it, not solely as the business of advancement.
“The Tigers are unique in that we are not-for-profit; we have 501C.3 status as a charitable organization. We take kids from as far away as Connecticut and New Jersey. The only criteria are that they want to have fun playing baseball and are committed to learning how to play the game the way it should be played,” says Goldstein. Coach Tom, of course, echoed those sentiments adding that, “The quality of our coaching staff and our focus on teaching the kids traditional values are very important. We want our kids to learn to make proper choices, especially about their expectations for baseball. Not everyone has the talent to play Division 1, but too many people profit from pushing young players to go farther than they can go.”
Partly as a function of market growth, but mostly because of commitment to traditional values, the LI Tigers organization has benefitted from expansion of the youth travel team industry. Where the Tigers once fielded only one team of 18 year-olds, they now feature two 10u teams, an 11u team, and teams at the 13-15-16-17 age brackets as well. The two-fold mission of the organization remains promoting the game and “giving kids the opportunity to play.”
That mission, combined with regular counseling of players to maintain realistic expectations, form the underlying values for the Tigers organization. As Coach Tom observes, “Those are the values that formed the organization early on, and over the years we’ve tried to maintain them.” In addition to Tom Hopke, the Tigers’ coaches bring impressive resumes. Mike Turo, for example, is the second winningest high school coach of all time in New York. Frankie Rodriguez pitched in the Major Leagues and provides a level of experience and accomplishment unrivaled in most travel team organizations.
To play for the LI Tigers, one needs only have a love for the game, a thirst for knowledge on playing the game the right way, and a commitment to the traditional values that playing baseball teaches about life. “We like teaching the game, developing ball players, and promoting a tradition which players can live by for a long time after their playing days are over. We want our players to be a team of guys who stay friends beyond baseball. Tradition and dedication are what distinguishes the LI Tigers from other organizations. It’s not just about the exposure, it’s about playing the game.”