BY NICK ABADJIAN
The Clippers are a Queens-based amateur baseball team with some big league heart and as they prepared themselves this week to play for borough bragging rights as part of the Queens Challenge Cup, they are also coming together as a team to hit a home run for kids who are less fortunate then they are.
A League Of Their Own
The heat hanging over the field at McClancy High School in Jackson Heights was almost intolerable during the early evening hours of a recent August Wednesday as Clipper Michael Xifaris took batting practice in preparation for the First Annual Queens Challenge Cup – a tournament where Queens and Long Island teams will face off and collect baseball equipment for underprivileged children in the Dominican Republic.
Suddenly the sound of the crack of the bat traveled to the ears of Clipper founder John Bulone and Clipper director Hector Algarroba as they turned to watched the ball travel deep into left field.
Algarroba turned around and said, “On a 100 degree weather day, kids come out for the love of the game.”
Bulone, an aerospace engineer, founded the Clippers five years ago as a summer travel team that would continue baseball for youngsters when the school season ends in June.
The team is also a means to keep kids out of trouble, Bulone explained.
Today, the Clippers have grown into a year-round baseball club.
The Clippers have expanded to 125 boys, aged 11 to 18, and three other coaches that are preparing to host the borough’s first Challenge Cup playoffs this weekend.
The Clippers are comprised of local kids come from all walks of life to — from Astoria to East Elmhurst— play ball.
You Gotta Have Heart
This Saturday the Clippers amateur athletic baseball club will host the First Annual Queens Challenge Cup and besides being about playing ball, the event will also be about having the heart it takes to collect used equipment for impoverished baseball loving kids in the Dominican Republic.
The tournament will consist of three Queens baseball teams — including the Clippers — and three Long Island teams.
Game time is Saturday, Aug. 18 at 11:30 a.m. and the finals are scheduled for Wednesday, Aug. 29.
Most of the games, played by those 16 and under, will be held at Monsignor McClancy High School at 71st Street and 31st Avenue.
Each team will get to play at least five games.
Among the Queens baseball clubs is HBQVB of Queens Village and RGMVM of Ridgewood and Middle Village.
But the Clippers are not just focused on winning.
Algarroba, a director for the Clippers and founder of the HHS Foundation, explained, “This is the first year. We are looking at being a good host.”
The foundation collects used equipment from various baseball teams and donates it to the fanatic baseball youth in the Dominican Republic.
The tournament will serve as a collection drive for the equipment.
Fields And Dreams
Besides McClancy, the Clippers play on the fields of the Elmjack Little League and Astoria Hellgate.
“After the last four years we’ve become a well known baseball club,” said Bulone.
The Clippers have traveled as far as New Jersey and Florida and won titles from Queens Kiwanis, Queens Alliance and Glen Cove.
Bulone, 47, explained that playing ball gives the kids “less time to drink and smoke.”
He played for the local and now defunct Silk Socks baseball club in the 1960s over at what used to be the Bulova fields.
The players have heart but they can’t have two failing grades otherwise they get kicked off the team.
Some of the players come from broken homes or are in dire straits financially.
In those cases, the Clippers organization doesn’t charge the players the $50 for the spring or summer fee.
This year two 18-year-old Clippers played in the Connie Mack All Star Game at Shea Stadium.
Bulone said that it is always a possibility that college scouts show up to the game.
Being a Clipper also offers a sense of responsibility and sharing as they help collect and pack the equipment bound for the Dominican Republic.
“These boys got to realize how good they have it here,” said Algarroba. He joined the Clippers the first year after his son started playing for the club.
Heading For Home
When he goes back to his native country of the Dominican Republic, Algarroba stuffs his luggage with used baseball equipment.
He left the Domician Republic when he was 10 and every time he goes back he is reminded how impoverished parts of the country are. Because of the love of the game and the absence of winter, kids play baseball 365 days a year.
But it is hard for the kids that play without bats or gloves.
In 1999, Algarroba went to the Dominican Republic with his son Steven and came back with dreams of fields — with equipped kids.
He enlisted the help of his son — and Bulone — and started collecting equipment on a more massive scale.
The effort produced the HHS Foundation, named after Hector, Hippolito, Hector’s father and his son Steven.
Algarroba used the contacts he made through traveling with the Clippers.
The Algarrobas traveled in a minivan to baseball clubs in the Metropolitan Area collecting equipment. Some of the used equipment collected involved cracked bats and cracked helmets not fit for Little League.
Yet they make a fine replacement to the rocks and broom handles that poor Dominican kids use to play ball.
Back in February the Clippers helped collect, sort, and package over 500 bats, over 200 helmets, miscellaneous clothing, including many complete uniforms, catcher’s equipment, gloves, and baseballs. Their efforts helped 17 leagues in the town of Los Conucas.
Beyond The Ballfield
In April, the HHS Foundation touched 38 leagues and more than a 1,000 children.
“It’s blowing out,” said Algarroba.
When they began the collection they used Bulone’s garage.
Then Mike Curran of Elmjack Little League temporarily loaned them a trailer by their field to house the equipment. But the trailer had its limits.
As HHS Foundation grew it met new sponsors. Frank Delicia of River Hauling in Brooklyn recently donated a 20-foot trailer for the equipment.
Other contributors include Tropicana, the Police Athletic League and Sealine Cargo, which donated the boxes and shipped them for free.
The effort went beyond baseball as the HHS Foundation did the paperwork for creating a new school for 600 kids in the town of Juan Dolio after their former school building had been ravaged by a storm. School supplies for the school were collected from various Catholic schools in the borough.
The foundation has also networked volunteer doctors to create a makeshift clinic from rooms in a school in the town of Pedro Bran.
The clinic services 300 families and provides general medical and dental work and surgery. It also collected medicine from two major hospitals to create a pharmacy in the clinic.
In February, the organization is planning a trip for the Clippers to go to the Dominican Republic. It will be the beginning of a baseball exchange program. And maybe some day a Dominican team will come here to play ball.
Be Part Of The Team
Donations of used equipment will be collected at the games.
To learn more about the Clippers and the HHS Foundation, call 932-1778.