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Basil Tarasko, pictured at his home, with balls donated for the Little League tournaments for orphanages in the Ukraine
Bayside native and longtime baseball coach Basil Tarasko has taught America's game to countless kids throughout the city.
But perhaps his proudest accomplishment has been introducing it to an unlikely - and needy - group of children in Ukraine.
In September, Tarasko will host the third annual Ukraine Little League Championship for Kids from Orphanages, made possible by equipment and resources donated from the U.S.
Tarasko, 64, who coaches at Abraham Heschel High School in Manhattan, founded the Ukraine Little League Baseball Orphanage Project in 2004. It gives local kids there a chance to play, using donated baseballs, mitts and uniforms.
Tarasko, whose parents are Ukrainian, said his motivation for the league and the championship was to give orphans a chance to enjoy a normal childhood.
"We just want to help the kids experience something they don't have," he said.
Tarasko already was running a separate Little League in the Ukraine when he became aware of the country's growing number of orphans.
There are more than 100,000 orphans and 200 orphanages in Ukraine, said Nadya Zastavna, executive director of the Children of Chernobyl, a nonprofit group based in Toronto, Canada.
Tarasko sees baseball as a way to "level the playing field" for the orphans.
"In Europe, they have only the best kids play soccer, or the best kids play basketball," said Tarasko. He uses Little League rules to ensure that every orphan gets a chance to step up to the plate.
In 2004, Tarasko sent out letters to dozens of orphanages in the Ukraine with more than 40 boys and girls ages 9 through 12, offering them free baseball gear.
He gets donations from places such as Pitch In For Baseball, a Pennsylvania-based charity, and from Little Leagues in other states.
Tarasko started the championship in 2008, allowing orphanages already receiving his donated gear to play against one another.
"I want to give something back to the land of my ancestors," he said.
The first championship was in Kiev. An orphanage from Lutuhyne, a city in eastern Ukraine, won the title.
But it's the reaction the kids have when playing baseball that touches Tarasko.
"You see a smile on their face the whole time," he said.
Tarasko's friend Roman Leskiw, who was also at the 2009 championship, said players who recognized Tarasko from the previous years immediately gave the coach a hug.
"Basil had tears in his eyes and he said, 'It's about the kids,'" said Leskiw, 48, from Farmington, Conn.
Tarasko expects to have six orphanages compete in this year's championship, to be held in Kremenets in western Ukraine.
He even scrounged up pairs of gray baseball pants, belts and jerseys for those kids participating.
"They're going to look like pros," he said.
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