In his first visit to the Fort Totten Park ballfields in about three decades, Whitestone native Bobby Gellert was surprised to find the lush green spaces he remembered from his childhood in a state of decay.
But, among the disrepair, he saw a sign of hope: a baseball.
“Everything happens for a reason, I believe,” he told QNS.
Gellert, founder and owner of Whitestone-based brokerage firm Shares of New York, decided this year to take on a number of “passion projects,” seeking to effect change in his local communities. Though he now lives in Chappaqua with his family, he decided to start with his former hometown in Queens.
Remembering growing up playing on the neighborhood’s ballfields for the DAC Athletic Club, Gellert sought out the organization in February. He met current executive director John Zullo, who explained that baseball participation in northeast Queens has been in steady decline.
“I explained to him that baseball as he knew it back in the ’80s no longer existed,” Zullo said. “So we kind of pivoted from just working to help DAC baseball to basically revitalizing baseball in this community.”
“Baseball has been a passion of mine for my entire life,” Gellert said. “I didn’t know that the local baseball leagues had deteriorated to the point that they have.”
During their conversation, Gellert and Zullo identified a place to start: the ballfields. Two fields at Fort Totten were in poor condition — one currently unusable — and one at Little Bay Park needed attention, the director said.
“Our hope is by having nice, safe, playable fields for our kids to play on, that it would rejuvenate the interest in the sport itself,” Zullo said. “They can get that feeling that they’re playing the sport at a higher level.”
One of the Fort Totten fields were rehabilitated at the end of April. Zullo coordinated with a field maintenance company, Three Guys Maintenance, and Gellert, through Shares of New York, donated the necessary funds.
Renovations at Little Bay Park will take place mid-May. The second Fort Totten field, which is in the worst condition of the three, will take the largest funding commitment.
“[Zullo and I] are talking about other fields and other facilities we can get involved with to really do the things that are necessary to bring baseball — the way that we know it, the way that it should be — back to Queens,” he said.
Gellert intends to form “Fields of New York,” a nonprofit organization through which he and his company will raise funds to further his mission to revive baseball in the local community. He hopes to take his mission up to Westchester — and beyond.
As for the baseball found at Fort Totten Park, he looks to use it for a ceremonial first pitch at each of the baseball fields he sees rehabilitated. He keeps it close to remind him of his mission: to see a renewed love for America’s pastime here in Queens.
“It doesn’t have to happen tomorrow or next year,” Gellert said. “If it happens in my lifetime, that is fantastic.”