A diamond anniversary: Riverhead Little League turns 60

04/30/2012 12:00 PM |

COURTESY PHOTO | Little League founder and coach Bob Burns in a 1985 photo with the Riverhead Moose Little League all-star team.

One night a few weeks ago, about a dozen men and women gathered in a backyard in Jamesport to chat, just as they do on a regular basis. They come from all walks of life and from all across town but are united by a single thread: the Riverhead Little League.

For over 60 years, the Riverhead Little League has provided the opportunity for hundreds of boys and girls to play baseball during the hot Riverhead summers. But for some athletes, parents, coaches, and administrators, the Little League means something more: it’s a place where life-long friendships were made.

The Riverhead Little League was formed in 1953 with no commissioner and just about 70 kids among the four teams, according to former administrators of the league, which celebrated its 60th anniversary this Saturday.

“It wasn’t very formal,” said Alex Doroski, a former treasurer and coach of the Little League who attended the get-together.

From its humble early days, the Little League grew. Charlie Crump served as the League’s first commissioner and implemented a minor league. In 1983, Mitch Skrypecki took over and formalized the league.

“Mitch’s claim to fame was the business side,” Mr. Doroski said.

By then the league had expanded to six teams, each sponsored by an organization in town like the Lions, Rotary or fire department. The Lions were the perennial best of the Little League, the “Yankees” according to former players and coaches, and no one was more revered than its head coach, Bob Burns.

Mr. Burns’ team dominated the league thanks to his smart drafting (the Little League used a drafting system in those days to assign teams) and dedication to coaching.

“He was Mr. Little League, no question about it,” said Vic Bozuhoski, who coached the Lions for 10 years with Mr. Burns.

The group passed around a photo of Bob Burns riding a kids’ carousel and laughed. Mr. Burns had taken an All-Star team to Rome, N.Y., to compete in a state-wide championship, and during a meeting with other coaches he promised he would ride the carousel if the Riverhead team scored a victory their first game.

The team won 4-0.

Today, one field at Stotzky Park is named in his honor.

Ron Schmitt Jr., a former player in the Little League and son of one of the commissioners, said he could still picture what happened when he tried out for Mr. Burns’ team.

“I remember the last thing he said to me was, ‘Throw it to me as hard as you can,’ ” Mr. Schmitt said. “I missed him by 18 feet!”

Mr. Schmitt would be drafted by the fire department team that year and would lead that team to victory on several occasions as a starting pitcher.

Mr. Schmitt’s father, Ron Sr., took over the league after Mr. Skrypecki retired and ran it for more than 12 years. Mr. Schmitt, who also attended the get-together and still keeps a scrapbook of his son’s days in the Little League, has a field named after him at Stotzky Park as well.

The former administrators all praised the town and its people for standing behind the Little League decades ago.

They still remember and appreciate the way the town’s groundskeepers kept the fields in pristine shape, the way the Suffolk County National Bank paid for a scoreboard and the way Riverhead Building Supply gave the league donations and discounts to build facilities.

The companies never publicized their donations and hard work, the former coaches said. They just did it to help.

psquire@timesreview.com