By Rebecca Henely
Even with fierce winds, a gray sky and an ever-present dampness in the air, more than 12,000 ballplayers and their proud parents came out for the parade and first pitch for the HBQVB Athletic Association’s opening season at Bellerose’s Padavan-Preller Fields Saturday.
“It’s a great way to bring my family and friends together,” said Roxanna Reid-Johnson, a Cambria Heights resident who played with the association as a child and whose 6-year-old son, Noah Johnson, was beginning his second year.
HBQVB stands for “Hollis, Bellaire, Queens Village, Bellerose” and Dennis O’Leary, comptroller and member of the board of directors, said the nonprofit athletic association has been a mainstay in those communities since 1952. It now encompasses a variety of baseball and softball teams for kids 5 to 18 years old and has 660 children in its leagues.
O’Leary said the parade, which began the day’s festivities, once ended at the field the association formerly used at 201st Street and Jamaica Avenue in Hollis. Now, the parade begins at 217th Street and Hillside Avenue and ends at Padavan-Preller, at 236-02 Hillside Ave. in Bellerose. Named for two supporters of the league — former state Sen. Frank Padavan and former state Assemblyman Fred Preller — the 19-acre complex has bloomed over the years into nine ballfields.
“I don’t think I ever would have dreamed of the batting cages and buildings,” said O’Leary, who has been with the association for 40 years.
Due to health problems, Padavan could not attend the festivities, but U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-Forest Hills) and City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) attended.
Weprin, who has a child in the league, praised the former senator for all he had done to support the association.
“This league wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Padavan,” Weprin said.
The association presented Chuck Schub, a former player and member of the board of directors, with the John Piccolo Memorial Award, which O’Leary said is given to someone who has done a lot for the league. As part of the honor, Schub threw the first pitch of the season.
Schub said he was overwhelmed by the recognition.
“I’m so pleased to be part of an organization that is in its 58th year … of serving the children of our community,” Schub said.
T.J. Labarca, 6, from Glen Oaks, said of Opening Day that he liked being a part of the parade and loved playing baseball.
“You get to hit the ball very far. That’s what I like about it,” T.J. said. “I’m very good at baseball.”
Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4564.