Those who believe in the cultural and life values that youth sports teach know that youth baseball in particular embodies those timeless values first and foremost. Baseball’s contribution to society has stood the test of time since Alexander Cartright and a group of Team Knickerbocker contemporaries developed the first set of codified rules in 1845.a
The words of movie character Terence Mann in Field of Dreams probably say it best…
The one constant through all the year, Ray, has been baseball.
American has rolled by like an army of steamrollers.
It’s been erased, rebuilt and erased again.
But baseball has marked the time.
This field, this game is a part of our past.
It reminds us of all that once was good and could be again.
Universal Studios, 1989
No one understood these words or the concepts underlying them better than Louis ‘Coach’ Presutti, founder of Cooperstown Dreams Park (CDP). Beyond that, no one put the words, the values and the concepts into action more resolutely, with greater commitment or perseverance than Coach Lou. Those who knew him best knew that he was happiest when he could share special moments with the kids. The kids of baseball; his kids of CDP.
In founding CDP, Coach Lou gave substance to the dreams of many – Louis A. Presutti, his father, chief among them. During a visit to the Cooperstown Hall of Fame the words of Lou, Sr. resonated loudly with Coach and his own 5 year-old son, Louis III, “Every kid in America should have the opportunity to play baseball in Cooperstown.”b
Nostalgic and wistful, prophetic yet simply stated, those words would change their lives forever. They would bring opportunity to thousands of young ballplayers that no one foresaw at the time. They gave rise to the dream.
The dream became a reality and the opportunity for countless kids arrived in 1996 when Cooperstown Dreams Park opened. Lou, Sr. did not live to see opening day; however, since that day thousands of young baseball players and their families have benefitted from his inspirational words. Likewise, Coach Lou leaves a timeless legacy of vision and achievement that touches the lives of everyone who enter CDP’s gates.
Over the years, some of CDP’s young players have seen their dreams lead to MLB careers. Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Chris Sale and David Price all played there on their 12u teams. Upon hearing of Coach Lou’s passing, Harper posted a social media message that speaks for allc…
“You will be missed, Lou! This man touched more lives and made more dreams come true than anybody I know. Can’t believe he is gone, but will never be forgotten! To the Presutti family my thoughts and prayers are with you. #BeYourOwnHero.”
As a CDP umpire since 2007, I have seen dreams come true. Although I cannot report statistics about how many men in blue who experienced the CDP dream made the ultimate transition to professional umpiring, many have improved to become high school and college certified, and undoubtedly some have advanced further. Having worked at several youth baseball tournaments throughout the northeast, I can attest to the pleasure of working youth baseball games where adherence to rules and fair play and respect for legitimate authority not only get preached but also get unquestioned support.
Many leagues and tournaments post written codes of conduct on fences and in printed programs, but none enforce them as CDP Security does. The “Rules of Dreams Park” specify restrictions against fighting and using profanity. Enthusiasm at CDP games, while strongly encouraged, must exclude “horns, music, banging on stadium walls or any other activity that creates excessive noise…all noise should cease when the pitcher toes the pitching rubber.” Smoking and the use of alcohol are also strong taboos. We umpires most appreciate these restrictions because it makes maintaining order on the field significantly more manageable when everyone abides by the same standards of acceptable behavior.d
Once you got to know Coach Lou, you understood the genesis of those rules and regulations. Coach lived by the combined principles of faith, family, country and baseball, in that order of importance. Those traditional values set the tone for all visitors to CDP, young and old alike. He conveyed the message to all of us, succinct and to the point, “Be your own hero, live your dreams.”
Cut from the same mold as Lou, Sr., a hard-nosed second baseman in his own right during baseball’s barnstorming era, Coach Lou lived his values mantra with great pride, integrity and conviction every day. Even the most grizzled veteran coaches and umpires measured up to his code of conduct while they attended the Dreams Park. It might have sounded harsh at first, but once you understood his perspective, once you saw the positive impact on young players, their coaches and their families, you knew he was right.
As you came to know him, you also got to see Coach Lou’s kinder, gentler side. The side the kids always saw. One of his favorite stories, which we heard him tell each year until we can now recite it in our sleep, concerned the team he visited which had not won a single game during pool play. He treated them to pizza and sodas, and he wanted to get their impressions of their CDP experience. Naturally, all expressed remorse and sadness at losing, yet all enjoyed their time on the CDP fields of dreams. One player in particular, though, caught Coach’s eye, and captured his heart.
As Coach Lou told it, that one player sat on his bunk chomping away on his slice of pizza and happy as a summer lark. He was not disconsolate at all, he told Coach. When asked why, the young man said he felt joy because he and his teammates had brought joy to all the teams they played that week. Joy indeed…not from losing, of course, but from the total CDP experience and the genuine comradeship emerging from those fields of dreams.
Not to be outdone, CDP umpires share a comradeship of their own. Each of us represents a different team, and, as do the teams, we all come from different parts of the country. Whether or not we know anyone else in blue during our week, we develop lasting friendships with our fellow arbiters that carry over to the off-season. Coach Lou always met with us and shared his love for the game just as he did with the players and coaches.
I always found it encouraging that he required coaches and umpires to meet together at least once during tournament week. Although our roles during the tournament differ, and at times become adversarial, Coach understood the common interest we all have in the games and the kids who play them. Establishing common ground between the two groups proved a hallmark of Coach Lou’s marketing genius.
Cooperstown Dreams Park promotes itself as “The Crown Jewel of Youth Baseball.”e As the youth travel sports industry continues to unfold and expand in the 21st century, CDP will continue to set the model that countless other tournament venues emulate. With CDP as the Crown Jewel of Youth Baseball, Coach Lou Presutti will forever live as its inspirational leader.
Whether they be future major leaguers or just kids playing the game they love, the young players who experience tournament week at CDP come away having played as their own heroes and having lived the dream. For those reasons alone Cooperstown Dreams Park may confidently lay claim to being the Crown Jewel of Youth Baseball.
For those of us who knew him, Lou ‘Coach’ Presutti will always be the brightest jewel in that crown.
aAlexander Cartright, en.wikipedia.org
bCDP Dedication, www.cooperstowndreamspark.com
cMark Wineka, Salisbury Post, firstname.lastname@example.org, July 9, 2016
dThe Rules of Dreams Park,” Cooperstown Dreams Park Welcome Package
eCDP Home Page, www.cooperstowndreamspark.com