By Phil Corso
The road to this year’s Little League season started on the Bell Boulevard pavement.
Ballplayers between 5 and 18 and their coaches, who make up 63 teams, marched through Bayside Saturday, marking the beginning of the league’s 60th year before the season’s first pitch.
The crowd gathered at 43rd Avenue and Bell before marching over to nearby Crocheron Park, where the league hosts most of its games. Business owners along the boulevard stopped as the Little Leaguers paraded by, shouting their team names and cheering.
League Commissioner Bob Reid corralled the teams before setting them off onto the route, often heard shouting at the players, “Are you ready to play baseball?”
Bayside Terrace’s 9-year-old Brandon Kaplan sported the bright orange colors of his Cross Bay Diner team, ready for his fifth year in the league. The lefty pitcher and outfielder was drafted high by the league’s team, his mother Jill said.
“It’s always a really nice thing when we start a new season,” she said as her son posed with his team for photos. “This Little League pulls from everywhere.”
Emmanuel Espinel, his season’s 11-year-old shortstop and second baseman for the Sal Salamone Masonry team, said he was ready to see a lot of action in his fourth season playing ball. His dad, assistant Coach John Espinel, said they travel from Flushing to be part of Bayside’s brand of baseball.
“It’s a great Little League here, and time well-spent with my son,” John Espinel said. “Every year I get to see how much he progresses on the field.”
Peter Hountas, 10, will be playing first and third base for the Rocco Brothers Construction team, he said, and spent the winter working on his batting stance to strengthen his swing. His little brother, 7-year-old Thomas Hountas, stayed close to his brother as he readied himself for his third season in the league playing second base.
After the players completed the parade route and dug their cleats into the fresh dirt of the ball field, the crowds became silent in recognition of the December mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. In honor of the teachers and students lost that day, Reid said a commemorative banner will hang on the Bayside fences throughout the 2013 season.
Community Board 11 Chairman Jerry Iannece was one of several officials to speak before the ceremonial first pitch and drew from his experiences on different levels of the league to inspire the young athletes.
“You’re making us so proud to be Baysiders,” said Iannece, who worked with the league as a parent, coach, advocate and sponsor over the past 15 years. “I saw firsthand what we can do with these kids and make them productive members of our community. That’s why Bayside Little League is going to win a national championship.”
After brief remarks, Iannece and several elected officials, including U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing), state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside), City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), former Sen. Frank Padavan and former Bayside Little League players state Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside) and Austin Shafran, a candidate for Council, took to the mound to throw the season’s first pitches.
Reach reporter Phil Corso by e-mail at [email protected] or by phone at 718-260-4573.