By GARY BROWER
The Holland Sentinel On Line
January 10, 2003
The Maplewood Youth Complex, home of the Holland Little League, features
three well-manicured, well-appointed youth baseball diamonds, complete with
electronic scoreboards, all within about 30 feet of one another.
In Ukraine, a country roughly the size of Texas which was formerly part of
the Soviet Union, there are three youth baseball fields. Total.
And with a per capita income of less than $900, there is precious little
money to build more.
So Little League teams there make due playing on converted soccer fields,
trimmed-to-size adult baseball fields or any piece of vacant land large
enough and level enough to host a game.
In Ukraine, there are more than 50 million people, but not a single sporting
goods store that carries baseball equipment. As Harold Weissman, a frequent
visitor to the country, put it, "You can't buy a baseball shoelace in
For nearly a decade, Weissman, of Queens, N.Y., and his friend, Basil P.
Tarasko, of Bayside, N.Y., have been donating their time and energy, and
sometimes their own money, to bring used baseball equipment from the
United States to Ukraine.
And this year, Holland Little League wants to help. In celebration of its
10th anniversary, Holland Little League will be accepting donations of used
equipment and uniforms at its annual registration sessions, and will be
passing the equipment on to Weissman and Tarasko. They will then sort
through the equipment and take what is useable to Ukraine.
"We have had 10 great years (of Little League in Holland). It's time to give
something back," said Sue Wilsey, former director of Holland Little League
who is helping to organize the equipment drive here. "This is something that
is pretty easy for us to put together and do for kids that have nothing."
The first of three registration sessions for Holland Little League is from 9
a.m. to noon Saturday, the second session is 6 to 8 p.m., Thursday, Jan. 16,
and the final session is 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Feb. 1. All sign-ups are
at Holland East Middle School, 373 E. 24th St.
There is also a drop-off site at Superior Sport Store, 202 River Ave.
"A lot of those kids don't even know what baseball is, and there is no way
for them to get equipment," Wilsey said. "At the end of the year we have
things left (in lost and found) that people don't even come and claim.
"I thought (Ukraine) was a great place for that stuff to go."
Wilsey has never actually met Tarasko, who is the District Administrator of
the Little Leagues in Ukraine, nor Weissman, the administrator of District
27 Little League in Queens. She heard of them through a mutual acquaintance
at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa., and has since spoken
with them several times on the telephone.
Tarasko, the baseball coach at Division III Baruch College in New York, is
Ukrainian by descent, and in the early 1990s became the coach of the first
national baseball team in Ukraine.
After working with 20- to 25-year-old players for a few years, Tarasko
realized the future of baseball in the Ukraine was in its youth.
"My original concern was building up the national program," Tarasko said.
"Then it dawned on me: 'Who is going to take their place? Let me get down to
the grassroots and let me get down to letting the younger kids play.'
"I enjoy working with the younger ones. That's the future."
But it hasn't been easy breaking through years of history and tradition.
"We wanted to push the idea of Little League that all kids should play and
that they should follow the rules and regulations," Tarasko said. "Under the
old federation style there were specialists in every sport, and it goes the
opposite way to give every kid a chance.
"They are still tied to those old ways because that is how there were
brought up. It's not a perfect situation, but it's getting better."
Still, equipment is hard to come by. With the average family of four earning
about $60 a month, there is very little disposable income, and baseball
equipment is not high on the list of priorities for most families.
"Since the salaries are so low, how can they afford to buy an $80 or $90
small glove that in the United States would cost $40 or $50?" Tarasko said.
"It is expensive to buy equipment.
"The hardest things to get are gloves. Those are killers," he continued.
"Good gloves are precious, but I know that in garages in this country there
are two or three gloves hanging around, that if people knew there was a
need, they would donate them."
Now that people in Holland know there is a need, Wilsey is hoping the 600
or so Little Leaguers in the area will do their part.
"We are hoping to outfit two complete teams," Wilsey said.
Already Wilsey has sent Tarasko two sets of old Little League uniforms,
which he and Weissman will take with them in their suitcases when they
travel to Ukraine on Sunday.
The shirts will give the Ukraine team that receives them a distinctive Dutch
One set of uniforms features the logo of Elhart Automotive Campus, one of
the first sponsors of Little League in Holland, and the second set was
sponsored by Russ' Restaurant.
The Holland Sentinel On Line, Holland, Michigan, January 10, 2003
For personal and academic use only