By Adam Kramer
It was a beautiful brisk Saturday morning that seemed more conducive to football, but the gloves were oiled, the bats were pine tarred and the cleats sharpened as the Glen Oaks Little League kicked off its 51st year.
Parents, friends and teammates gathered for the first time this year for the traditional celebration — a parade, hot dogs and sodas — of the Little League, which has been the rite of spring for more than half a century as a number of politicians tossed out the first pitch.
U.S. Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-Bayside), state Sen. Frank Padavan (R-Bellerose), state Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside), state Assemblywoman Ann Margaret Carrozza, and representatives from City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) and the borough presidents office were on hand for the season opener.
“As you grow up, you will appreciate these days because they teach you can be anything you want to be,” Ackerman told the crowd awaiting his first pitch. “But let’s get back to young America and play ball.”
Padavan, who has been a staunch supporter of the league over the years, said that just as the Yankees and Mets are off to good starts, “you all are going to have a good year.”
The players and their families — led by cheerleaders and about five people playing drums — marched down 260th Street and headed down to 255th Street, where they turned right and made their way back to the fields. Along the parade route community residents and business owners cheered the athletes and their families, while cars passing on the other side of Union Turnpike honked their horns.
About 900 people, including the more that 400 league players on 32 teams, showed up for the event, which preceded the first games of the baseball season. The players come from Glen Oaks, Floral Park, New Hyde Park and Bellerose and are between the ages of 5 and 15. The league also sponsors t-ball softball and hardball programs.
“Parents, no matter what cable company you have,” said Weprin, “you can come here and see the Mark Weprin Wildcats.”
Weprin was referring to the fight between the Yankees and CableVision. The cable giant has refused to show the Yankee games now telecast on the YES Network
Bob Kruczowy, a firefighter from Bellerose and one of the many organizers, said this year the league has a record number of kids, more traveling teams and sponsors.
“Our goal is to win another championship,” said 13-year-old Marisa Bearak, who is a Mets and Mike Piazza fan.
Her friend and teammate Lauren Epstein, 12, of Bellerose said the team has been together since its members were 5 years old and are looking to continue the dynasty and win their third straight championship.
“We have a really, really good team, so I think we can pull it off,” said Joseph Decosimo, 14, a Mets fan from New Hyde Park, about his team, the Reds. “The league is just fun and something to do.”
But for league president, Bob Kelleher of Glen Oaks, who has two sons on teams, the league means something more than play.
“The league brings a sense of community spirit,” he said. “For the kids it teaches them discipline, hard work and sportsmanship, which are all traits you take with you through out your adult life.”
He said he remembers the things he learned when he was a child and his father was the coach. Kelleher said the league, which attracts kids from all walks of life, lets them have fun and play baseball.
“The league helps the kids learn to play together, teaches discipline, keeps them away from trouble and focuses on the task at hand,” said Floral Park resident Sal Femia, whose 5-year-old son is starting his second season. “I just want them to have a good time, play together and have fun.”
Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.