Volume 74, Number 48 | April 06 - 12 , 2005

Sport

Alex Lowey gets in some practice at J. J. Walker Field before the 2005 season starts.

Rain, rain go away: Little Leaguers ready to play

By Judith Stiles

In spite of the lousy weather, the New York Yankees began their 2005 season, and Greenwich Village Little League is not far behind, with their first games scheduled to begin in a few days . . .if only it doesn’t rain.

Week after week, bad weather shut down most city fields. However, thanks to local coach and parent Brian McKenna, kids have been playing a few preseason pickup games at J. J. Walker Field, often with wool caps and rain jackets. Even if the FieldTurf was a bit frosty, that didn’t stop them.

Last Sunday, over 30 kids divided the field into two smaller diamonds for simultaneous, rolling pickup games, where if you happened to stop by with your glove you could join the game, and if you got too cold, it was O.K. to leave. McKenna, who has been coaching for almost a decade, loves the pickup games that are played purely for fun, with no standings, no limits on the number of innings and no squabbling among the adults about pitching rules.

“In Manhattan, it is not like when I was a kid in Queens, where you just showed up at the park every day and could join a pickup game,” says McKenna, wistfully. “These kids need permits with time restrictions, and always adults have to be involved in the games.” The grownups often bring a seriousness of purpose and an agenda to Little League baseball that children seem far less concerned with. Even in divisions with 10-year-olds, parents will often keep stats on all the players, which can make the kids self-conscious and take the fun out of the game.

McKenna, father of 12-year-old twins Brian and Kasey, brings his own baggage to the pickup games — bag of bats and balls and bases, along with lots of fun. This year, he is coaching his son Brian’s team, the Marlins, in the Majors A Division, and he is also at the helm of his daughter Kasey’s softball team, which will travel for their first game to 145th St. in Harlem.

“I love coaching and my kids don’t know how lucky they are that I have the kind of work where I can just take off a few hours for practices and games,” says McKenna, owner of a neighborhood sports bar called McKenna’s on 14th St. between Seventh and Eighth Aves., known for its delicious burgers and seven TV screens. “Some parents just drop their kids off at the games and don’t get involved because they are too busy,” notes McKenna. “There is nothing like tossing the ball around with your kids on a sunny day,” he adds, admitting that young Brian and he sneak in a little baseball before school sometimes.

The anticipation of the 2005 season is palpable, especially with the boys who have been eagerly scrimmaging in the cold drizzle. McKenna points out that for over half their lives, one of the hometown teams, the Yankees, have made it to the playoffs, so the Little Leaguers don’t really know the pain of faithfully rooting for a losing team year after year.

“These kids don’t play with wooden bats much anymore either, and I think they should,” he is quick to point out, emphasizing safety issues. What else has changed? “They need to resolve the steroids controversy fast because it is very bad for baseball,” says McKenna. “These kids don’t fully understand it, and they shouldn’t have to think about it,” he adds, shaking his head decisively, wishing the problem would clear up along with the constant drizzle.

Greenwich Village Little League will provide fun and structured games, including T-ball, baseball and softball for over 800 children who reside on or north of Canal St., up to 59th St. and from Broadway to the Hudson River. With an array of players, coaches and managers all gussied up in their uniforms, G.V.L.L. will hold its annual Opening Day Parade at J. J. Walker Field, at Hudson and Clarkson Sts., at 9:45 a.m. on Sat., April 9, that is of course, oh no . . . if it doesn’t rain! The rain date is Sun., April 10.

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