Baseball America is profiling the four finalists for the New Balance Game Changer Award, recognizing high school athletes who excel on the field and off, with an emphasis on community service. Eligible players entered an essay contest in which they outlined their achievements in baseball, in school and in their communities. Four finalists were selected, and the winner will be chosen by voting on Facebook, which begins on July 25. Finalists also made short videos about themselves, which you can view on the New Balance Baseball Facebook contest page. The winner will be announced at the Area Code Games on Aug. 7.
For evidence that baseball comes first for Satchel Daleo, you don't need to look further than his name, which was inspired by Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige.
Daleo is a rising junior shortstop at Rockford (Ill.) Christian High and plays for two travel teams as well. He has proven to be a versatile defender for his high school team and continues to get better at the plate as he sees more varsity pitching. He doesn't plan on stopping after high school: Daleo committed to play baseball at Northern Illinois back when he was in middle school, and he says that it would take a strong pitch from a major league club to pull him away from that commitment.
But Daleo, who lives in Davis Junction, Ill., knows that it’s not as easy for young players in northern locales to feed their passion. The cold climate of northern Illinois forces him to practice indoors in the winter, and when Daleo and his family initially looked for places to do that, they found the facilities simply too expensive. They found many travel teams to be much the same way.
As Daleo asked around, he found plenty of other people who had the same experience, and he banded together with players and parents to find a solution. That’s one of the reasons why the 16-year-old is one of four finalists for New Balance's Game Changer Award, which includes a $10,000 college scholarship and New Balance products donated to a charity of the recipient's choice. The award is designed to recognize players who excel on the field and in their communities.
Daleo and his family and friends found a building in Loves Park, Ill., that used to be a potato chip factory, and they outfitted it as an indoor baseball facility, with nets, L-screens, lights and air conditioning.
"Yeah, I mean, it's not much to look at, because right when you come in you have to go around a back route and there's a big bunch of lumber in the back, but once you get in there, it's nice," Daleo said.
That facility has become Wallbangers Academy, a non-profit baseball and softball practice facility operated by Daleo's father, Chris, where players from the area can come to receive instruction, rent a space for a relatively inexpensive price, or just hit for free. Hitting tunnels at Wallbangers, for example, rent for $10 an hour, a fraction of the cost at some other facilities.
Wallbangers has become a full-time commitment for Satchel as well. He gives lessons to younger players, and during the winter, when the facility is in high demand, he comes in after school and opens it up, staying until 8-9 p.m. unless he has baseball or basketball practice. On weekends, he's there all day.
When the Daleos also found travel teams to be out of their price range, they took a similar approach to what they did with Wallbangers and started the less-expensive Rockford Riverhawks travel program, with an emphasis on instruction and affordability. The program has grown significantly since its inception and now features five baseball and two softball teams.
For Daleo, one of the most important things about these ideas is the teaching aspect; of nurturing a love of the game in the same way people did for him.
"When I was younger, I had people that helped me, that would teach me the game," he said. "And I think it's great for me and other people on my team to teach our younger Riverhawk team and younger players that come in . . . just teach them the game and pass along our information."
Daleo keeps busy with his high school team, the Riverhawks and his other travel team, Team Maxbat. He has traveled around the country for tournaments and has tried out for USA Baseball national teams in the past. He has also helped Rockford Christian make significant progress. The Royal Lions made their deepest run ever in the state playoffs this spring, and Daleo said he will try to help a young team, laden with juniors like him, go even further in coming seasons.
"We should just keep improving, because (by senior year) everyone will have about four years of varsity time under their belt," Daleo said. "So when we're seniors or when I'm a junior, we should be threats at state, I hope."
It's pretty obvious that Daleo's life revolves around baseball, and he has channeled his passion for the game into helping the community.
"It's just in his blood," Rockford Christian baseball coach Mike McClellan said. "And that's kind of cool, because as a coach you like working with kids like that, who just live to be around the game."