ST. PETERSBURG — Baseball season is soon in full swing and Burg Baseball is ahead of the curve.
The Burg Baseball, Inc. program continues into its 10th year. Local residents Charles Castle III and Mike Fintak, who passed away in 2009, started the program in 2007 to give local underprivileged children the chance to play ball.
“We believe that every child can perform at their best and we will not allow them to fall by the wayside,” Fintak stated on the Burg’s mission statement.
“We made baseball available here,” Cliff Williams, vice president of Burg, said.
Burg Baseball is the lowest-priced Little League in St. Petersburg. Their fees range from $90 to $150, which are under a half or a third compared to other leagues.
Castle researched info about the Midtown neighborhood to find that, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, 66 percent of south St. Pete residents represent minority groups and 16 percent of this population lives at or below the poverty level.
“What would normally be priced out for a sport… we give them the chance at a reduced price,” Castle, current president of Burg, said.
One of Burg’s goals, Castle said, is teaching the young players character and life skills that a sport requires.
“We are very proud of being part of something that would help kids develop … not just in athletics, but also in the classroom as well,” Castle said. “We want them to know that there is lots of competition out there.”
Castle and his staff will reinforce their players about achieving this standard. They often sit out a player during practice for not making enough good grades.
“We are not just concern about them winning a game, but winning a grade,” Williams said.
The players’ parents are often required to help volunteer as assistant coach or help at the Burg’s concession stand at Tropicana Field.
But Castle noticed that parents have recently opted out after deposit, so he has been recruiting teenagers for assistance.
“Many parents are working too much to survive,” Castle said, noting that parents get refunded if they volunteer.
The staff has their hands full in coaching all six divisions. Their focus is now on the new tee-ball team.
Williams notes that the younger players often get the butterflies when stepping out on the field.
“Baseball is really a mental challenge,” Williams said, remarking that baseball is not as popular in the Midtown area as basketball and football.
But, Castle remarked, “they can carry a competitive edge.”
Burg Baseball is affiliated with the Babe Ruth/Cal Ripken League program. They currently have six-team divisions with nine teams. Their first division is tee-ball for ages four to six; follow by the Cal Ripken rookie, minor and major (Lion Kings) division teams, ranging from ages 7 to 12. The players can advance into the Babe Ruth teams: the Burg Bombers and Cannons followed by the Seniors, ranging from ages 13 to 18.
Burg Baseball has gotten much attention over the years for their activities and sponsors.
Last year, the Babe Ruth 13-15 team got second at the 2016 15U district tournament. Also, Castle and his wife Sheila, along with Fintak’s wife Latrice, are nominated for Bay News 9 Viewers’ Choice Everyday Hero of 2016.
For two years, Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Chris Archer, along with WTSP Channel 10 News, donated money to the program as part of Archer’s strikeout campaign. Last year, Archer donated $8,500 after striking out around 200 hitters.
Castle and Williams have sons who play on the teams. Castle’s son Isaiah currently plays as a pitcher for the Seniors, and William’s oldest son, Nyneter, plays shortstop for the Seniors with his youngest son Kyrie serving as the Kings catcher.
Baseball seems to be in Williams’ blood. His father Clifford played while serving in the military during Vietnam and his grandfather Buddy once played for the Fort Myers Miracle, a local Negro League team back in the 30s and 40s.
“They gave me a significant calling to learn and to teach baseball to others,” Williams said on coaching.
For Castle, after 10 years coaching children, Burg has been a nice journey.
“It’s my turn to be an influential person,” Castle said on coaching kids. “It just blossomed from there and now we have a great baseball league.”
Registration will continue until the end of March. For more information, call Charles Castle III at (727) 798-7632 or Burg’s website at burgbb.website.siplay.com.
Burg’s fields are located at Lake Vista Recreation Center, 1401 62nd Ave S.