Local little leaguers look to repeat magical first season
When Ray Bartoszek told his son Owen they were moving from the east coast to Montana in August, 2016, the seven-year-old started to cry.
“He said, “You’re going to take baseball out of my life,” recalled Bartoszek, who as a limited partner in the New York Yankees, had treated his son to
a dream-like early childhood of fandom. Then came the move.
Soon after the Bartoszeks settled in at the Yellowstone Club, Ray went looking for the local little league and found nothing.
“So, last year, for the first time out of Big Sky, we put a team into the Belgrade youth baseball league,” explained Bartoszek, who coached alongside another local blessed with Big League credentials—Matt Morris—who pitched in the World Series for the St. Louis Cardinals.
“He’s unbelievable, actually,” said Bartoszek. “Both of us, Matt and I, had children who were eight years old last year.”
Morris and Bartoszek named their team The Royals because: “Matt was a very big part of the St. Louis Cardinals. And I am part of the Yankees organization. I wanted to stay away from those teams and we compromised with something in the middle of America. We wanted people to like us. That was part of it. And Big Sky colors are blue and white.”
The Royals fielded 15 8-year- olds, and most had never played baseball. They practiced in the Lone Peak High School gym, waiting for snow to melt at the Community Park diamond. No one set foot on a field until the first game.
The Royals won their opener, and then the next 11, to go undefeated with a 12-0 record.
“Undefeated. Yeah, the kids are amazing,” chuckled Bartoszek. “They’re just amazing athletes. These boys are just crazy good athletes in Big Sky. You watch them ski, you watch them play hockey, watch them play soccer. Then just throw a glove on them and give them a ball and they just knock it around.”
Like last year, opening day for the Belgrade League is in late April. And this season, The Royals hope to field three teams:
That means as many as 45 Big Sky kids will be coached and taught to play in ways valued by a couple of guys who’ve built their careers with the help of baseball.
“Just understanding that baseball is more than a sport,” said Bartoszek, explaining how last season his team’s success was due to good camaraderie and discipline with little things, like tucking in your jersey. “We wanted to make sure they learned the right way.”
Spring training for the 2018 Big Sky Royals begins Sunday, Feb. 11 in the LPHS gym.
“So we get the kids off the slopes a little bit early on a Sunday,” said Bartoszek.
Looking ahead, The Royals hope to bring more games to Big Sky. Last year, they hosted an all-star tournament with teams from Belgrade and Livingston.
“Had a great weekend of baseball,” said Bartoszek, adding how happy he is with baseball’s new status quo in Big Sky. “We just figured it out together. I was happy I could keep my word to my son that I wasn’t going to take baseball out of his life.”
For more info, email Bartoszek at: