Baseball keeps manager young
Tim Twentyman / The Detroit News / May 14, 2016
As a player and now as coach, Corte has been a stalwart on Jet Box senior team since 1969
Jim Corte always has had a soft spot for the game of baseball.
A standout at Harper Woods Notre Dame High in the early 1960s, he hoped for a big league career. But a rotator cuff injury his sophomore season at St. Bonaventure derailed those dreams.
After returning to the Detroit area in 1968, Corte wasn’t satisfied getting his baseball fix from watching the Tigers or playing in recreational softball leagues. So, he and his uncle, Lou Zardus, who owns the Jet Box Company in Troy, reunited Jim’s sandlot buddies from Notre Dame and Detroit’s East Side to start a baseball club.
The Jet Box Baseball Club played in the Detroit Baseball Federation with a $5,000 budget their first season in 1969. Corte and Jet Box still are going strong.
Though his playing days are over, Corte, 60, managed Jet Box to the Canadian-American Senior League Championship last season and to a runner-up finish in the National Amateur Baseball Federation Major Division World Series in Louisville, Ky. Jet Box finished 43-17 last season.
"I love the game, and I’m in shape so I can still do it. Every spring I seem like a kid again," he said. "The love of baseball keeps me going. People stopped asking me how long I was going to coach for back in the ’80s. They must assume it’s going to be forever."
What started as a group of friends getting together to play a little baseball has morphed into one of the best amateur programs in the country. Jet Box is the fourth-ranked team in the NABF’s Major Division rankings this season.
Over the years, Corte has managed more than 400 players, including former major leaguers, college all-stars and guys who work 9-to-5 jobs with families.
Players from around the country are on the current roster. Former Western Michigan pitcher Keith Perez lives in Las Vegas, but travels to Michigan to play with Jet Box in tournaments. Former major-league pitcher Mark Dewey (Giants, Mets and Pirates) lives in West Michigan and travels to the Detroit area to play for Jet Box.
"A number of guys have played (professional minor-league) ball in this league," said Dewey, who played professionally for 10 years. "I’ve played at all levels of baseball and I’ll tell you that this is really good baseball. I’d probably compare it to high-A ball.
"Jim (Corte) is a guy that obviously loves the game and loves giving guys who can still play the opportunity to play."
Former Tigers pitcher Milt Wilcox played for Jet Box in 1987, and former Tigers star Dave Rozema played in 1987 and 1990.
"I was friends with Wilcox’s father-in-law," Corte said. "Milt had been released in 1986 and wanted to get back into baseball. He said he would like to use Jet Box as a springboard to get back into major leagues. He played for us that summer and then went and tried out for the Giants." The current roster has players as young as 20 and as old as 53.
"This is a tight-knit group and a family," said Jet Box catcher Matt Viggiano, who played in the New York-Penn League for the Phillies in the ’90s.
"Guys just like playing with us. But you have to be a quality player to play on this team."
Of Corte, who was inducted into the National Semipro Baseball Association Hall of Fame in 2006, Viggiano said: "He is like a father figure for me. The guy is a genius. He has a laid-back style that makes playing for Jet Box seem like a family affair.
"It would be hard for me to play for someone else after playing for Jim. He is just a great guy; you just don’t meet people like him."
You can reach Tim Twentyman at firstname.lastname@example.org