Winning wasn't the only thing for Hank's Yanks at the Cooperstown Tournament last week, but it made a great experience even better for the team of 12-year-olds from Long Island and inner city.
The Yanks, sponsored by Yankees general partner and co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner, ran the table at the prestigious upstate tournament, finishing 11-0 by beating the Mid Hudson Tigers, 7-3, in the title game.
Hank's Yanks manager Sandy Kyrkostas of Selden was thrilled with the title, but was even more proud of how players from two different worlds came together.
"Before this tournament, you had rough, tough kids combining with middle-class kids," Kyrkostas said. "We changed these kids' lives and my life, too, because I love these kids."
Hank's Yanks hit 44 home runs and finished with a team batting average of .577. Lake Grove's Nick Corsaro had 14 homers and batted .805 en route to being named the tournament's Most Valuable Player.
"I watched these kids interact and they really bonded like a family," said Kyrkostas, whose son Stephen played second base and batted leadoff. "We won it because the two worlds collided and became a family."
Kyrkostas talked about a startling time one night in Cooperstown when a police cruiser pulled into the parking lot where the kids were having ice cream.
"The [inner city] kids ran and the middle class kids had their mouths open, like what?" Kyrkostas said. "We told them you're not doing anything wrong. You shouldn't have to run from the cops."
Inner city members of the Hank's Yanks ballclub included first baseman/pitcher George Valero of the Bronx, and pitcher/catcher Kelvin Reyes and third baseman/pitcher Alfredo Delgado from Washington Heights.
Kyrkostas said that in the fourth inning of the final game he received a call in the dugout from Steinbrenner, asking for the score. When Kyrkostas told him it was 7-3, he was told "Make sure you win it," Kyrkostas said.Hank's Yanks received special commemorative rings, bats and a six-feet tall championship trophy that the team is planning on giving to Hank to put in George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.
"Steinbrenner deserves a lot of credit for helping them stay in baseball and keeping them off the streets because starting in the streets happens at a young age," Kyrkostas said.And the Yanks did, in more ways than one.
"It's not all about baseball," Kyrkostas said. "It's about changing lives. This team is special."