Take me out to the pier field; P3 parties for ball fields first year
By Jefferson Siegel
While the Major League Baseball Cardinals recently played their last ball game at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, at Pier 40 on the Lower West Side, the Pier, Park and Playground Association is just getting started. Known as P3, the local youth sports organization celebrated its first successful season of baseball on the new Pier 40 field with an event dubbed the First Annual Family Fall Classic.
Ten years ago, P3 was formed to improve playing conditions at local fields and to seek out new, better locations. For several years, baseball games at Pier 40 were confined to a small rooftop field until last April, when the new, mammoth-sized ground-level field opened for use. Friday evening was an opportunity for family, friends, players and coaches to celebrate the end of the first successful summer season on the new diamonds.
Vincent Rotolo, a P3 and Greenwich Village Little League coach and a tireless promoter of the benefits of better playing fields for future neighborhood MVPs, was delighted with Pier 40s new diamonds. Its thrilling for me to see kids playing on the courtyard field for the first time, he said. I couldnt even think of life without these fields and this night is a celebration of that. As he spoke, players were firing away fastballs and having their velocity measured with a radar gun. One 13-year-old pitched heat as fast as 60 miles per hour.
The evening provided locals the chance to leave with more than just fond memories. While feasting on real baseball food like hamburgers, hot dogs, peanuts, pretzels and soda, a silent auction, with proceeds going to P3, was held throughout the evening. One office wall was covered with bid forms for items ranging from sports memorabilia to restaurant meals. A table was filled with bats signed by Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and Mets outfielder Mike Cameron. On the wall hung signed jerseys from Roberto Alomar and Tom Glavine of the Mets. People had the chance to bid on meals from local eateries Chanterelle, Patsys Pizza and even Florent. Tickets to a Giants game and the Joyce Ballet were also up for grabs.
Silent auction coordinators Terry Maloney and Beth Wagner said the strongest interest was focused on four iPods from Tekserve and several Gameboys and X-box games. Perhaps the most unusual item up for bid was the chance to hit against a bona-fide pro pitcher. Leon Feingold, a former hurler for the Cleveland Indians, stood on the field, waiting to fire heat at the higgest bidders. Ive been friends with a couple of coaches here at P3, Feingold said. Its a lot of fun and I cant believe its such a great turnout today. Im really proud for P3 and the Little Leagues. Also taking turns pitching was Orlando Encarnacion, who pitched in the Mets system.
There was no containing the excitement of young players, who were anxious to run onto the diamonds for the competitions. Some of the on-field challenges included the Pitch-O-Rama, where players threw the ball at a small target, and the Slug-O-Thon, where a young slugger knocked one clear across the pier. Smaller children were entranced by special appearances from David Ige, the All-American Clown on stilts, and Mr. Met, who autographed baseball cards and high-fived everyone.
Matt Hahn, a Stuyvesant High School coach, oversaw many games this past season. Friday night, he smiled as his players took to the field. Its a great night, Hahn enthused. It was a dream come true, having someplace really close by. Our kids fell in love with it the first time they came out here.
Tom Ellett, President of the G.V. Little League, acted as the master of ceremonies for the evening, alternately announcing events, encouraging people to bid in the auction and interviewing several players on the field about their summer experiences. Tonights a great night. Its a chance for parents to really celebrate baseball and honor one of our great legends in G.V. Little League, Art Henkel, Ellett said during a break in the action. Henkel, on the board of P3, was an instrumental part of the P3 playing field since its inception. On this night, he was inducted into the P3 Hall of Fame. Henkel is currently coordinator of the seniors, juniors and Big League Divisions of the Greenwich Village Little League.
Parents also spoke highly of the sparkling green diamonds, shining a little brighter under the night lights. The new field was a great addition to the resources down here, said Joe Jaffoni, whose 12-year-old son played in the Majors A Division last year. Its a lot better than the parking lot, he added, referring to the older rooftop field.
Downtown resident Charles Komanoff said, You wouldnt think that Lower Manhattan would be a kids baseball paradise. It is. Its a miracle how this kids baseball paradise has come to flourish. His two sons play on the fields in the Downtown Little League.
The last event of the evening was family softball, which gave parents the opportunity to try to hit one just like their children. An oversized soft rubber softball made the games easier for the hitters and fun for the packed infields.
The older kids who always had to travel to Central Park to have a field here in their back yard for the first time was, really, a great accomplishment for the community, Ellett noted. Seven hundred children played in the G.V. Little League this past year.
Now were looking forward to the future, Rotolo said. The next big thing were looking forward to is an indoor field house where kids can go play sports in the winter.