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Pitching support in South Africa

Merrick baseball coach spreads skills, hope overseas

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Baseball has enriched and defined most of Zach Goldstein’s life. Some of his earliest recollections are of playing on the dirt fields near his Merrick home, he said. Now the 25-year-old is pitching the sport to youths both at home and abroad, hoping to spread the lessons he has learned along the way.

Goldstein has a storied career in baseball. As a student at Calhoun High School, he was the Colts’ captain, helping them reach the 2012 state championship. He played baseball in college at Southern New Hampshire University, making him eligible for the Major League draft. Then Goldstein enjoyed a one-year stint on the Long Island Ducks that ended last season.

He described baseball as the catalyst for all his successes — “I’m still learning, but so much I’ve taken in carries over into my everyday life,” he said. Not only has he learned the value of teamwork, patience and communication, he said, but a constant drive to reach further heights fuels his daily life thanks to the sport.

Now, the Merokean aims to pass along those lessons. With Matt Soren, another baseball pro from Roslyn who played for the Ducks and the Philadelphia Phillies, Goldstein formed Pro Diamond Training, to teach young people starting in seventh grade about the lessons beyond baseball.

“One of the things that really bothers me is seeing a kid with talent, but they’re not being guided the right way,” said Goldstein, who now also coaches for and attends Adelphi University. “A lot of kids fizzle out because baseball is fun, but it’s tough — they’re not being taught to stick with it.”

Goldstein and Soren show the children how baseball and education benefited their lives and how to pursue similar windows of opportunity. “From my own experience, I was always the underdog,” Goldstein said. “But I was taught at a young age that I can do it if I work hard at it.”

“It just clicked” between the two, Soren said, describing his and Goldstein’s similar mindsets on interacting with young people. “A lot of the time, only the athletic part [of baseball] is taught, but we teach a lot of different things — including how kids should act on and off the field.”

Soren’s appreciation for the sport grew when he traveled to Maitland, South Africa, in 2016 to coach for Play Sport4Life. There, poor students are surrounded by violence and crime, Soren said. In an email, PS4L founder Miles October said the children are exposed to gang shootings “daily” and “substance abuse is rife.”

“The overall goal of Play Sport4Life is to get as many youths from the impoverished communities around Cape Town into playing sports and empowering them to make better choices for their lives — such as saying no to drugs; to rather join a sports team than join a gang,” October wrote. “We use sports as the medium to spread these messages.”

“Their faces light up just to play,” Soren said. “It’s like electricity; you can feel it.”

The charitable work has led to a renewed outlook on the value of baseball for both Soren and Goldstein back home. “There are dedicated kids on Long Island, but there are a lot that take it for granted,” Soren said. “It becomes monotone almost.” While children receive new equipment every season in the United States, Soren said, South African children barely have the basics.

“A lot of them tape up their feet when they’re running — they don’t have shoes and get blisters,” Goldstein said. “Where a kid here might look at equipment as garbage, there, kids will treasure it.”

So, Goldstein and Soren are collecting donations for the young players in South Africa. As of Tuesday, they had hundreds of pieces of equipment, from bats to gloves, helmets, cleats and more, to be sent out to PS4L. The nonprofit will share the donations beyond Maitland, with baseball clubs in Uganda and Malawi as well, October wrote.

Goldstein asked that anyone with old, unused baseball equipment reach out to zachgoldstein2@gmail.com to donate. The shipment will be sent out after April, he said.

“It’s a game that needs to be spread,” Soren said. “It can give kids an outlet for their lives.”

“They’ll learn the same qualities — teamwork, leadership, communication. But it’s different. It’s more. A sneaker to those kids means everything to them,” Goldstein said.