Volume 74, Number 49 | April 13 - 19 , 2005

Opening Day for Little League and pier field, too

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel
The Tigers lined up on Seventh Ave. S. for the Greenwich Village Little League Opening Day Parade.

By Jefferson Siegel

Opening Day. The words guarantee that winter is finally over, that overcoats can be abandoned in closets and that six months of pent-up energy and expectations can finally bloom on the playing field. Last Saturday the Opening Day ceremonies of the 21-year-old Greenwich Village Little League were held and the weather proved to be the game’s biggest fan.

Under a crystal-clear blue sky, hundreds of players gathered along Seventh Ave. S., preparing to march in the Opening Day Parade. Brilliant sunshine emblazoned team colors: the bright red of the Cardinals, the green of the Devil Rays and the deep blue of the Royals.

Gladys Ellett, the Opening Day and fundraising coordinator, recalled events leading up to Saturday’s festivities. “It started back in October and November when we started to send out our letters to our sponsors,” she said. “We’ve been working very hard to get more children involved in Little League and gettting sponsorship, writing to politicians to ask for their support.”

At the corner of Clarkson St., Coach Vincent Rotolo, the League training coordinator, walked by with an armload of “Opening Day” T-shirts and a stack of banners over his shoulder, anxious to help get the parade underway. Richard Caccappolo, a Minors Division manager, was offering last-minute advice to his team and handing out caps and T-shirts to coaches.

It took a little longer than expected to corral 500 eager ballplayers into a procession, but at 10 a.m. a woman asked through a bullhorn, “Is everybody lined up and ready?” They were, and as coaches and parents walked alongside holding jackets, bats and an occasional Razor scooter, the teams proceeded up the avenue, turned west on Leroy St. and marched into J.J. Walker Field on Hudson St.

Through a PA system that was also playing music, Ellett announced the arrival of each division onto the field. Fans and locals filling bleacher seats cheered on the teams as they paraded once around the diamond.

The field was soon filled with groups representing all 10 divisions. Players stood behind banners listing “T-Ball,” “Girls’ Softball” and “Majors A.” Behind the banners the team jerseys of the Padres, Marlins, Diamondbacks, Angels, Cardinals, Devil Rays and Pirates were proudly worn.

The day’s program started with Margit Jensen singing the national anthem. Welcoming speeches were short and to the point. Assemblymember Scott Stringer and Councilmember Eva Moskowitz spoke of the League’s importance to the community. League officials and politicians lined up for a quick photo-op. Then it was time for one last formality, as Miguel Acevedo, manager of the Seniors’ Division, threw out the first pitch and the season was officially underway. Acevedo was previously with the Chelsea-Clinton Little League and helped merge the C.C.L.L. into the G.V.L.L.

Some teams headed west to the newly opened courtyard field on Pier 40. The huge field has room for four simultaneous games, but Saturday saw only warm-ups and practice as players sampled the new facility. Caccappolo recalled the field’s opening on the previous Thursday afternoon.

“It was really an emotional day,” he said. “People who grew up in the Village were really emotional, walking out there and saying, this is the culmination of 15 years of community efforts, diligence and activism to get this thing done.“

Previously, a far smaller rooftop field was all Pier 40 offered.

“People are really emotional about this great space. Greenwich Village kids have a new field,” Caccappolo said.

Back at J.J. Walker Field, players rushed onto the diamond for the first of the day’s two games. Tom Ellett, the new president of the G.V. Little League, reflected on the day’s origin. “This is the Fourth Annual Opening Day for Greenwich Village,” he noted. “It was actually my wife who came up with the idea. There was never an opening day here, so someone on the board said, well, it’s a good idea...if you want to make it happen, you do it. So she organized it four years ago. What we try to do is make it a community event, to really acknowledge the importance of baseball in the Greenwich Village area and connect the community.”

As players for the Minnesota Twins and the Texas Rangers took their positions on the field, Ellett explained, “We went out and got sponsors for each team. We raised over $50,000 this year. It goes to scholarships. We got some grants, we got some scholarship money, and then sponsors are at the heart and soul of what we do.”

Gladys Ellett added, “We had to actually close our registration because we don’t have enough managers to manage teams. The other thing that’s new this year, Greenwich Village Little League was able to allow parents who had registered before to register online. Considering that we’re a volunteer organization, we’re really making progress.”

The league’s Web site is http://greenwichvillagelittleleague.org/. Caccappolo, who created the Web site and serves as webmaster, said, “It was a huge success, much better than anyone had anticipated. We have a lot of traffic as people are really starting to use the Web to find out” about the League.

As the first inning started, Gladys Ellett observed, “We’ve got the opening of Pier 40 fields and soon we’ll be playing out there. It’s an exciting year.”

Barry Lafer, immediate past G.V.L.L. president and now president of Pier Park and Playground Association, which runs youth sports programs on Pier 40, said the start of the use of the pier’s field has been a “soft opening.”

“People are using the field. It’s a soft opening — I don’t know what else you’d call it,” he said, noting that Little Leaguers and Downtown United Soccer Club players had simultaneously been the first to use it — playing on opposite sides of the huge artificial-turf swath last Thursday. An official ribbon-cutting with politicians is expected next month, Lafer said.

“The anticipation is the big brouhaha will follow in two or three weeks,” he said. “All the powers that be — the governor and the mayor — will be there.”

Last weekend’s G.V.L.L. game results:

Minnesota Twins 12
Texas Rangers 8
Colorado Rockies 17
Atlanta Braves 17

Atlanta Braves 17
Texas Rangers 11

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