By Joe Anuta
Bayside Little Leaguers as young as 5 kicked off their season Saturday with the annual parade down Bell Boulevard, but for team managers and coaches, the competition had begun long before.
Under a pristine April sky, Bayside Little League Commissioner Bob Reid patrolled the crowd in the staging area of the parade like a town crier, repeating: “Tuck in your shirts!” to the excited mini-marchers who gathered with their coaches at around 10:30 a.m.
Luc Mastrototaro, 6, had donned red sunglasses before taking up the banner of his team, Urban Express. He and his fellow sluggers marched and danced down the boulevard before reaching Crocheron Park, where most of the games are played between the 62 teams.
Mastrototaro’s father, Joe, is the coach of Urban Express and said in the younger leagues it is all about the basics. He teaches them the rules of the game, which direction to run the bases and how to throw and catch.
“There’s a transition from the beginning,” he said. “By the end, you wouldn’t know it was the same group of kids.”
But as the children grow older, the competition grows more fierce — and that goes for the adults, too.
After the kids reach the age where runs are tallied and wins and losses are acknowledged, as opposed to the younger leagues where competitive aspects of the game are disregarded, coaches rank each player according to his or her ability, said Rich D’Orta, who coaches a team that one of his three sons plays on.
And once a year, the coaches gather at the league’s clubhouse on Francis Lewis Boulevard or at Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament for a draft that can last hours if tempers flare over certain players.
“It gets competitive,” D’Orta said. “In my opinion, too competitive.”
The coaches draw numbers out of a hat to decide in what order they get to pick players based on last year’s stats.
But some already know who they want.
Jerry Costa coaches the team sponsored by Katie-Den — and he takes his job seriously.
Costa scouts out players well in advance of the draft.
“A guy like myself, I hit a lot of the fields. I see the talent,” Costa said.
Costa has his own website touting a list of championships he has won with his Little League teams. When an Internet surfer happens upon the site, the Survivor tune “Eye of the Tiger” plays over a list of rules including, with a few exceptions, a ban on crying.
Costa, who refers to himself as the “most hated man in baseball,” said practice is the key to winning, and by Opening Day his team had already had 15 practices under their belts.
Even in the staging area of the parade, coaches of players in the younger leagues said Costa is the guy everyone else wants to beat.
But for most of the 5- to 12-year-olds who gathered at the ballfield, winning seemed like the last thing on their minds.
After elected officials — including state Assembly members Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) and Grace Meng (D-Flushing), City Councilmen Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), state Sen. Tony Avella and former Sen. Frank Padavan — threw out the ceremonial first pitches with varying degrees of accuracy, the youngsters were turned loose. Shirts came untucked, cupcakes vanished from nearby tables and the Bayside Little League season officially began.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.