Keystone Little League is one of the largest organizations of its kind in the county, yet officials and coaches there felt the success of their baseball teams did not match the amount of talent they had.
"Two years ago, we weren't even getting out of districts, which is not good considering the number of kids in the league," said Reinier Cruz, a Keystone board member who oversees training and development. "And we started losing kids to AAU."
Cruz said Keystone needed some help.
"We've got 700 arms in this league that we could develop into pitchers," he said. "If we developed 2 percent of them, we'd be doing great."
Enter Addison Maruszak, a Triple A prospect with the New York Yankees and former USF freshman All-American and four-year varsity letterman at St. Petersburg Catholic.
Maruszak, a 27-year-old shortstop, was already leading workshops and taking training gigs to support himself during the off-season. But then he found a willing partner in Cruz and Keystone and started working with kids there when he was in town.
"It was tough to find a Little League willing to spend the volunteer time to help other people, but that's what this league has done," Maruszak said. "We sat down with Reinier, discussed it, liked it, and we've worked together ever since."
Two years later, Keystone has won its first state baseball title and the ebb of athletes leaving for AAU has stopped.
"It's pretty amazing growth literally overnight," Cruz said.
Maruszak's influence and knowledge aren't just benefitting the kids. He also holds clinics for the coaches.
"He is giving the coaches simple nuggets of information that they can translate into action," Cruz said. "For instance, coaches think they know how to throw a four-seam fastball, Addison will actually teach them (coaches) the right way with drills that he's learned over time."
Maruszak also imparts some big-league wisdom to the young athletes.
"He is always stressing that it starts with your education," Cruz said. "He doesn't just teach baseball; he has an effect on these kids' lives."
And Maruszak knows about getting an education, after graduating sixth in his class at St. Petersburg Catholic.
On the field, Maruszak played at USF for two years, where he was the Big East Rookie of the Year as a freshman. In 2008, during his junior year at USF, he was drafted in the 17th round by the New York Yankees.
He has worked his way up to the Triple A level, yet he is still pursuing and has almost finished his degree in business management.
"The impact of having a guy in here wearing a Yankee uniform, kids look up to him," Cruz said. "I have a 14-year-old son, he won't listen to me. But when Addison talks, they all listen."
So why does a budding major league prospect spend his offseason working at a Little League park?
"There's nothing better than seeing someone succeed when you've put time into them," Maruszak said. "When I get a call from a parent saying their kid hit two home runs in a game, that's what it's all about."
On a recent Thursday evening, Maruszak was working in the batting cages with a few youngsters, showing them the finer points of hitting. He makes up scenarios for the hitters to imagine when taking swings.
"He's a great coach. He helps us take better swings; it should help with my swing when I get to the majors," 10-year-old slugger Tre Reader said. "It's so cool to have a big-leaguer show us tips on how to get better."