Carlo Saldana, holding trophy, being awarded the Inspire the Future Award by Mr. Met and Fidelity Investments. Mets pitcher Roberto Hernandez is at rear.
Inspirational G.V.L.L. coach receives award at Shea
By Judith Stiles
In the early 1970s when Carlo Saldanas mother used to watch him play baseball, she had the best seat in town, perched on her windowsill overlooking the dirt field on the East River Drive near Sixth St. In those days, there was no formal Little League on the Lower East Side, and boys just put teams together and played baseball from dawn to dusk. Saldana remembers his mother yelling from the window, Carlo, when are you coming up to eat!
The youngsters didnt need a permit and there were no restrictions on pitchers, such as not being allowed to pitch consecutive games or limits on the number of pitches thrown. Saldana fondly remembers, Pitching count, well there was no such thing! When I was 11, I pitched as long as I wanted to and I had a no-hitter and won two championships!
After age 12, young Carlo moved on to play softball with the old guys, who, come to think of it, were guys in their 20s and 30s and not so old, he recalls with a chuckle. The men played for beer and the kids played for soda, with someone from the neighborhood standing in as umpire.
The greatest moment was when you hit the ball over the fence and it landed in the water. After the games, we would get our fishing nets and try to get the balls back because balls were really precious, recounts Saldana.
In those days, the kids did not need medical release forms or insurance, and there were no pricey club fees. They played with wooden bats and werent as concerned with injuries as players are today.
Metal bats have changed the return of the ball and the whole game tremendously, says Saldana. The controls and regulations built into Little League are good in many ways, but they can take away from the game sometimes. He mentions Anthony Rodriguez, who at age 11 pitched 70 miles an hour, but then eventually blew his arm out when he played for the Staten Island Yankees.
Even after Saldana became one of the old guys, his love of playing baseball never waned. Although he still occasionally plays ball on the Lower East Side, he devotes almost all his spare time to coaching. During the week, he works as an electrician in Local Union 3. He considers his most memorable job being part of the team that assembled the temporary station for the Path train after Sept. 11, 2001, working under great duress. On the weekends, he has been coaching in the Majors A Division of Greenwich Village Little League for the past 13 years and he sits on the leagues executive board, where he has been instrumental in shaping the philosophy of the baseball program.
In Lower Manhattan, when parents began to organize youth sports into leagues, there was the risk that adults would go into overdrive, turning Little League baseball into a pressure-cooker performance showcase for the kids. This happened throughout the country but not in G.V.L.L., thanks to coaches like Saldana, who kept the tone of the games focused on fun, learning and teamwork.
Sure, I like to win as much as the next guy. But I try my hardest to make sure every kid is comfortable on the team and everyone is having fun, says Saldana. When a player is struggling and cant get a hit, Saldana makes a point of meeting the player at the park to work on his swing, but more important, to build confidence. I always tell my players, youre a kid and youre allowed to make mistakes, says Saldana.
Everyone involved in baseball in Lower Manhattan loves Saldana, and the kids line up each season in hope of getting him as a coach. For his outstanding work in G.V.L.L., this summer Saldana was awarded the prestigious Inspire the Future Award from Fidelity Investments and the Mets. Saldana was honored with this award in pregame ceremonies at Shea Stadium where Mr. Met and Jennifer Trainor from Fidelity made the presentation. This time, his mother could not watch from her apartment window, but was bursting with pride as she warned her son that its all right to choke up on the bat, but not all right to get choked up and emotional in front of a stadium full of people. Although the award was a complete surprise to him, Saldana remained composed and was beaming with happiness for himself, and for all the city kids who grew to love baseball from being on his team.