When Joe Spoto decided to form the Jamestown Tigers, a 16-and-under travel baseball team, back in August, his reasoning behind the move was simple.
"It (was) time to get baseball back to where it should be in this area," he said.
It's a worthy goal, especially when one considers that participation rates in the sport have fallen pretty substantially - 20 percent fewer children are playing Little League baseball (which covers those ages 7-18) today than were in 1996 - over the years; and given the healthy numbers of interested parents and ballplayers he's drawn thus far, it seems to be a goal that many in the area can get behind.
"To be honest," he said, "when I first put the ad in the paper in August (of 2012) I wasn't sure what to expect and I didn't know how many kids we would get.
"But there was actually a lot of interest from the beginning."
In order to achieve his aforementioned goal of improving and strengthening area baseball, the aim of Spoto's squad - called the Tigers as an homage to the Major League organization in Detroit and it's shared baseball history with Jamestown - is to improve fundamental skills and help dedicated players take the right steps towards playing at the college level.
Spoto, who in the spring is an assistant coach to Jay Grann and the Frewsburg Bears, is also an assistant with the Jamestown Community College's fall baseball team.
"We're looking to improve every one of the kids' skills," he said. "We want the program to be for serious players and for the team to be (a sort) of college recruiting tool. I want to help (the players) out, and you absolutely cannot (play college) baseball without playing summer ball."
Sixteen "serious players" from throughout the county (Frewsburg, Jamestown, Westfield, Falconer and Southwestern, to name a few) made this year's edition, and have already begun practicing.
Of those 16, a whopping nine are pitchers, making it possible for Spoto to avoid overusing one or two of the young arms, a problematic situation that arises often with other travel teams.
"I can put out a quality lineup every game, and everyone is good enough to be out there on the field," Spoto said. "I think we'll be very competitive for our age group, and I think that we should be able to play with teams from Syracuse and Rochester; teams that before we had trouble with because we didn't have the same pool (of players) to choose from."
In addition to taking part in a number of tournaments from Cleveland to Buffalo, the team will also be competing in two summer leagues - the Buffalo Police Athletic League (PAL) and the Western New York Travel Baseball League.
The first scheduled games for the Tigers are slated for June 9 in Kingsville, Ohio.
Spoto also hopes to hold a three-day tournament in mid-July at Diethrick Park.
All in all, the Tigers are expecting to play between 40 and 50 games this summer. And, he adds this is just the beginning.
"Next year, the intention and the plan for the program is to make an 18U, a 16U, a 15U (or maybe 14U) and a 12U team," Spoto explained. "I won't be able to coach all those (teams) on my own, so I'll need more help in the future. But I'm looking to expand the program."
For more information, including team news, a roster and a schedule, visit the Jamestown Tigers 16U Travel Baseball Team facebook page.