Little League and waterfront have come a long way
By Judith Stiles
It wasn’t so long ago that on Saturdays, P.S. 41 boys used to hang out at the dilapidated wooden piers on the Hudson River, throwing rocks into the water for entertainment, while girls collected broken bits of liquor bottles, pretending that they were jewels. That was what many local kids did for recreation when there were no real ball fields in Greenwich Village.
But several decades later, neighborhood kids now flock to Pier 40 at W. Houston St. to play baseball, soccer, flag football, lacrosse and rugby, many of them unaware of what a battle it was to build those fields.
Leading the charge for more fields was Tobi Bergman, who has rallied troops of parents, politicians and patrons for more than a decade. Bergman and his followers understand that ball fields are more than just big green patches for games. Ball fields are essential for children’s health and well-being.
At this year’s Greenwich Village Little League awards ceremony, former league president Tom Ellett, and current president Rich Caccappolo, honored Bergman for his tireless efforts to establish playing fields for children and adults in the Village area. The ceremony was held at Pier 40’s finger pier.
“I want to thank all the people here who worked so hard to give kids an opportunity to play baseball in New York City,” said Caccappolo of the many volunteers who make Little League possible. The “godfather of umpires,” Henry Guiden, who is retiring after 10 years of heading G.V.L.L.’s umpire program, gave an emotional thank you speech, saying, “These were the best 10 years of my life.” He is passing the torch to his son Spenser Washington, along with Kevin Dorsey. Umpire Mike De Rosa was also praised for his friendly spirit and willingness to chat with the young players between games, explaining calls and the game’s finer details.
G.V.L.L. has grown tremendously in the past decade, with increased enrollment in baseball and girls’ softball, and it has also seen a shift in its coaching approach. With the help of the Positive Coaching Alliance, a national program promoting healthy sports environments, G.V.L.L. has weeded out the screaming, browbeating managers who sometimes ruined the game for kids. The Positive Coaching Alliance program offers guidelines for what they refer to as “honoring the game,” which includes ways to give positive recognition and praise, as well as respect for the rules, opponents, officials, teammates and, of course, oneself. These new guidelines came naturally to veteran coaches such as Ray Scardapane, Carlo Saldana and John Evans, but for the newest coaches of T-ball, it has been a helpful tool for managing players and overzealous parents.
Although spring playoffs are over, the Greenwich Village baseball season continues at Pier 40. Like soccer, baseball is now a year-round program with wonderful summer camps hosted by Pier Park & Playground and fall ball, as well as winter clinics that focus on skill-building. The program has grown so much that G.V.L.L. was forced to turn away applicants due to lack of field time and space. Even girls’ softball has developed into an impressive, competitive program under Rob Silverstein’s leadership.
“Rob has been a great role model, very ethical, and always did what’s right for the kids,” said Caccappolo, as he gave Silverstein a commemorative plaque. Everyone in the league knows Silverstein never needed any tips from a book on how to create a healthy sports environment for girls. He could have written the book. And now, because ace pitcher Erica Silverstein is graduating from girls’ softball, dad Silverstein is retiring with a recognition award in hand and the parting words, “The time goes fast, and it doesn’t get any better than being involved in this wonderful league.”
As the evening came to a close and the glorious sun began to set behind all the volunteers, looming in the background was the big questions of how to keep Pier 40’s ball fields in full swing, and how to create more fields for the increasing number of youngsters in the Village. However, with volunteers like Chris and Sheryl McGinnis, and the enthusiastic support of Nancy Caccappolo, this group has made a deep commitment to guaranteeing that kids will never return to the days of no ball fields and pitching rocks into the river for fun. Kids need parks for pitching balls, not rocks. And for the girls, Pier’s 40’s baseball diamonds have become the most valuable jewels of all.