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BY SAM SPOKONY | Friends from out of town, assuming a scarcity of youth baseball fields in New York City, are always surprised to find out what Greenwich Village resident John Economou does in his spare time.
“People are amazed by it,” said Economou, as he watched a game in James J. Walker Park, at Hudson and Leroy Sts., on Saturday afternoon. “They say, ‘Oh, you live in the city, what do your kids do? Do they even have ballparks to play in?’ And then I let them know that, yeah, I actually help run a Little League with 850 kids in it, and we have plenty of fields. Their jaws generally drop when I say that.”
Economou, 42, took the reins in June as the president of the Greenwich Village Little League. The league has been active since 1984 — always supported through volunteer work — and includes both baseball and softball leagues, for boys and girls ages 5 through 16.
The league just began its fall season. Games started on Saturday and will continue through mid-November. But the overall program runs on a year-round schedule that makes a new president’s work seem pretty daunting. After a break around Thanksgiving, the winter season features indoor instruction at Pier 40’s P3 facility, at West Houston St., from December to March. Then comes the league’s main attraction, the spring season, which runs from April to June, and finally, a summer season in July and August.
Economou, who by day is one of the principals at a real estate corporation, has watched his sons, Lucas, 11, and Nathan, 8, come up through G.V.L.L. since their T-ball days. Along the way, he has coached, coordinated and become the league’s executive vice president. So, as they say, he knows the score.
G.V.L.L. has remained steady in its fields of choice in recent years — along with James J. Walker Park and Pier 40, the league utilizes fields at Corlears Hook Park, Murry Bergtraum Field and East River Park on the Lower East Side, as well as DeWitt Clinton Park in Hell’s Kitchen and several fields in Central Park for the older divisions. But Economou explained that he has noticed a change in the league’s level of enrollment since his oldest son joined six years ago.
“I think the numbers have definitely grown,” he said, “because I remember that, back at Nathan’s opening day of T-ball, there wasn’t such a big turnout. And alongside the increased number of kids, I’ve noticed that our board has grown as well, because it really takes a lot of dedicated and committed volunteers to run this.”
Economou also noted that collaborative work with neighboring Little Leagues has become increasingly important over the past several years, as the demand for Parks Department permits becomes greater and renovations at parks like James J. Walker — which will likely be out of commission for next spring’s season — leave G.V.L.L. with gaps to fill. Most recently, he said, partnerships had been formed with Downtown Little League, which covers Lower Manhattan, and Peter Stuyvesant Little League, which covers between 14th and 72nd Sts. on the East Side.
G.V.L.L. presidential terms run for only two years, but Economou is excited about the possibilities that await during his tenure — especially because of a recent cross-cultural exchange that has resulted in two games, one in May and another in September, between one of his league’s baseball teams and a visiting team from Florence, Italy.
“It was tremendous,” he said, recalling the first game, which was held at J.J. Walker. “We played the Italian national anthem and then the American anthem before the kids played, and the whole experience showed what this league is all about. It’s a way to build bonds.”
Economou also remembered how shocked the visiting Italian coach was to find that a New York City league exuded such a sense of warmth and community.
“He was amazed by what he found here, and that’s what really stuck with me,” Economou recalled. “After the game, all of us — around 80 people, from both teams — walked over to 13th St. and had Korean barbeque for dinner. It was just a great day for everyone.”
Although there have only been discussions up to this point, he added that G.V.L.L. may even work on sending a team over to Florence in the near future, to complete the cultural exchange.
And while there are plenty of positives on the horizon, Economou also stressed that he and the league will be redoubling their efforts this year toward finding answers to the trouble surrounding Pier 40, which is falling apart and currently has no concrete solution in sight.
He and the previous G.V.L.L. president, Dan Miller, along with leaders from other local sports leagues, have begun an initiative called Pier 40 Champions, which seeks to raise awareness about the issue and inform local families that, with enough work, the problem is indeed within their power to solve.
“The concerns of Pier 40 are huge,” Economou said. “And if we don’t mobilize to try to find some viable solution, we’re going to find ourselves without a tremendous community asset, because that’s where so many kids play baseball, soccer and football, along with other sports. It would be really terrible for the whole city if we were to lose that resource.”