Teams’ merger ‘best of both worlds’

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It started as a running joke, grew legs at a local Chinese restaurant on Union Turnpike in Queens and intensified as the summer season neared.

When it arrived, the Bayside Yankees and New York Nine were no more, conjoined at the hip and called “Team New York Baseball.” The merger, which promises to help kids in both programs, is unilateral as all teams are a combination of Bayside Yankees and New York Nine players.

The Bayside Yankees, run by Marc Cuseta, have been around since he formed the organization in 1981. Cuseta has won 18 national championships, produced almost 1,000 collegiate scholarship athletes and 120 professional alumni, including major leaguers such as Walt Weiss, Jim Mecir, Rocco Baldelli, Steve Karsay and Billy Koch. His most recent one is Pittsburgh Pirates rookie third baseman Pedro Alvarez, a Vanderbilt University standout.

The Nine have been around just five years and were put together by Millman, a Queens College product and the Francis Lewis baseball coach. In that short time, Millman has cornered the market on local standouts, personally developing all three PSAL players drafted this spring: Francis Lewis pitcher Jonathan Bobea; George Washington shortstop Mike Antonio, the highest drafted city player in 14 years; and Monroe center fielder Melvin Garcia.

“We’re both trying to create opportunities and resources for our kids,” Millman said. “Together, it’s a no-brainer.”

Cuseta, a 51-year-old Kew Gardens native, said the move was two years in the making, but it began to heat up in November during dinner over Chinese food in Queens. Millman sought out Cuseta’s advice on two of his players: right-handed pitchers Bobea and Jeremy Rodriguez. The two had known each other for 15 years and always shared a common respect for one another’s work. During the meal, they began picking each other’s brain about joining forces, seeing, Cuseta said, “if we had similar philosophies” that could mesh.

“It went a bunch of different directions,” recalled Millman, a teacher at World Journalism Prep in Bayside and an associate scout with the Anaheim Angels. “Who he had returning, who I had returning.”

They had another meeting soon thereafter, ran the subject past their respective coaches and a verbal deal was in place by February. Millman is the president of Team New York Baseball; Cuseta the head coach for the Senior Scout team, made up of high school seniors and college freshman, and director of baseball operations; and Stan Latimer is the COO/secretary.

The merger is beneficial to both organizations for several reasons. For the Bayside Yankees, it enabled them to add talented locals they wouldn’t have been able to get if not for incorporating the New York Nine. Cuseta’s program is nationally known and built on talent from New York and New Jersey, but not necessarily the five boroughs. When a hole popped up, he would’ve had to recruit an out-of-state standout, but now he can call upon Millman’s resourcefulness.

“He has the best the city has to offer,” Cuseta said. “In a normal season, we’d bring in our seven kids from all year. But this year we’d have to bring in 15 and seven locals. The depth of talent isn’t there.”

As for the New York Nine, joining the Bayside Yankees gives them immediate cache. For all of Millman’s contacts, his rolodex hardly compares to that of Cuseta’s, particularly as far as college baseball is concerned.

Youth Service Director Mel Zitter was surprised to hear about the merger, considering all Cuseta has done over the last three decades in developing the Bayside Yankees name. He also thinks it hurts local baseball considering there are fewer spots for kids now that the two organizations have become one. He doesn’t expect it to affect his program, which is considered among the area’s best in the first place, right with the Bayside Yankees and New York Nine.

“We have the kids we have and we’ll always have them,” he said. “For every organization that disappears, another one comes up.”

Members of both organizations also have to deal with possibly losing their starting spots, Lehman and Nine first baseman/pitcher Tyler Gurman said. But there is also the matter of competition fostering better play.

“Only good can come from it,” said Gurman, who will attend Westchester Community College in the fall. “It’s going to be tough to beat us. We’ll be just about unstoppable in the New York area.”

Said George Washington second baseman Xyruse Martinez, who will play at Wharton Community College (Texas) in September: “Two great teams, two great traditions, two great programs coming together. It’s gonna be new and exciting.”

Clearly, there is an abundance of talent in Team New York Baseball. The Senior Scout team, for instance, has players from Illinois, Texas, White Plains and Tennessee heading to schools such as Maryland, St. John’s and Columbia.

Fifteen players — six from the New York Nine, nine from the Bayside Yankees — were taken in the recent First-Year Player Draft. There is still a feeling-out process that will need to take place and an adjustment between the two groups. Yet, scholarship opportunities will be gained and high-level games played.

The Senior Scout team, in fact, recently won the Battle at the Border title, a tournament featuring elite programs in the Northeast, and the Showcase team won the 24th-annual New York Liberty tournament.

“It’s the best of both worlds,” Millman said.

Updated 6:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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