Al Morales stood in his office on a recent weekday morning in front of a wall that chronicles the 40-year history of his business, Yorkville Sports Associates.
Awards he has won over the decades mingle with signed baseballs, figurines and photos of iconic sports figures, like the 1992 United States men’s Olympic basketball team, nicknamed the “Dream Team.” A framed print out of a poem titled “Success” sits next to photos of his children in their sports gear at various points in their lives.
“This was when we were just starting out,” he said, gesturing to a photo of Morales and his wife in their company’s first storefront in Manhattan.
Founded in 1978 and based in Yorktown Heights, the company organizes and runs various amateur sports leagues in New York City and Westchester County for companies and community groups.
Yorkville Sports provides professional officials for each game, T-shirts for members and all other necessary sporting supplies. Yorkville also rents the playing fields where games are held.
The company’s West-chester branch organizes leagues for sports including softball, kickball and golf. Recently the company added a new bocce ball league to its roster.
“It’s really up and coming,” Morales said of the sport.
Morales also hopes to add dodgeball to his company’s list of leagues in the near future.
Prior to starting the business, Morales spent the better part of a decade working as a counselor and therapist, first as a youth counselor and later as a family and drug counselor. But years of the mentally and emotionally draining job took its toll.
“I needed a change of direction,” he said. “I just got burnt out. I just said, ‘I’ve got to go.’”
For a change of scenery, a young Morales moved to Yorkville in 1977, an “old German town” on the Upper East Side.
“I started getting myself physically and mentally back in shape,” he said, adding that he spent the following year running, working out and taking the bus to nearby taekwondo classes.
“Everytime I needed change for the bus, I would go to this candy store. I felt bad just getting change, so I’d try to buy something,” he recalled. “And eventually, I bought that store.”
Morales purchased that candy store in Yorkville in 1978, but instead of a candy shop, he had a different idea in mind for its future.
“My passion was baseball and sports,” he said. “I didn’t want to sell candy, so within six months, I had gloves, baseball bats, and it just took off from there.”
Sports have always been a part of Morales’ life. He even played semi-professional baseball and tried out for the Major Leagues before an ankle injury brought those big league dreams to a halt.
After opening his new sporting goods store, Yorkville Sports, Morales soon began playing in various neighborhood recreation leagues. Eventually, one of the league owners offered him a proposition.
“One of the leagues said, ‘Would you mind taking this over? We need someone to take this over,’” he recalled. “I said ‘Great, now I’ll sell some more uniforms at my store.’ That’s all I had in mind.”
Morales took out space in a local newspaper, advertising his league and soliciting any teams who might be interested in joining.
“I was just looking for neighborhood teams,” he said.
The response, he said, was overwhelming. A number of corporations, including Major League Baseball and CBS Sports, later reached out to Morales, telling him they’d be interested in signing up employees to compete.
“It’s like I just stepped into it and God said, ‘You’ve put your time in. Here you go, kid,’” he said.
For corporations, Morales said these recreation leagues can build camaraderie, improve work relationships and promote health and wellness in the workplace.
“Some of these companies, these people didn’t speak to each other, they didn’t know each other before these games, and now they’re playing with the vice president of the company and the guy from the copy room. It’s a different atmosphere,” he said. “It helps them to build a bond from top to bottom and helps make them a well-oiled machine.”
“People are just people when they come out to the field,” he said. “They aren’t a vice president or whatever, they are just a ballplayer.”
Morales said there are numerous benefits from the services his company provides.
“Staff are healthier, they’re happier, they mingle, they socialize. They go out after the games. These are distractions from the daily stresses, from the long hours.”
Since its inception, the organization has worked with more than 16,000 firms.
Morales, along with the company’s main offices, moved from Manhattan to Yorktown Heights in 2002. Soon after, Yorkville began to offer these leagues throughout Westchester.
“We are putting an emphasis on our corporate presence here because we’re here, and the need is here,” he said. “That’s probably the way it’s going to go, but we never want to close out the community teams.”
In celebration of the company’s four decades in business, Morales plans to host an anniversary celebration later this month.
“I’ve been thinking about retirement, but I just can’t. It’s been a hell of a ride.”