The Little Neck-Douglaston Lightning 11-12 baseball team celebrated the start of its season on opening day at Preller Field in Bellerose on April 23. They will be facing teams from across Queens, including Bayside, Hollis, Queens Village and Bellerose.
Coming off a first-place finish last season in the Bayside Little League, Lightning general manager and head coach Nicholas Singh is looking forward to seeing how his players have improved and welcoming new faces as the team enters the major division. Singh’s 15 years of experience as a teacher have helped him better connect with his young players as well as the community itself.
Between the COVID-19 pandemic and the decreasing popularity of baseball among youths, Singh has noted the challenges kids face in trying to play baseball in their free time.
As a means of attempting to introduce more kids to the game, Singh and other parents around the community have often organized what they refer to as the Summer Sandlot, where kids from the neighborhood can participate in baseball games every Sunday night at Crocheron Park, with parents volunteering as umpires. According to Singh, the program has done well in drawing more kids to join Little League.
In an effort to keep his 13-team roster in shape throughout the year, Singh held practices every Friday night throughout the winter at an indoor sports facility. Additionally, during the season, Singh holds a burger night and pizza night twice a year for his team and their families, working to arrange it with the team’s sponsors, Five Guys in the Bay Terrace shopping center and Gino’s on Springfield Boulevard in Bayside.
Singh is highly motivated to get his team to win a championship. He believes doing so creates an experience that will remain for a long time within each kid, creating fond memories for them to look back on later in life.
“It stays with the kids forever,” Singh said. “These leagues are all parent-driven. They’re all volunteers. If I know they succeed in life thanks in part to the lessons we taught them, then we’ve done our job.”
Singh credits Roger Mischel and PEGS Baseball for helping his players improve in their skill and love of the game through clinics and team training. A former player at Adelphi University, Mischel now acts as the head instructor for PEGS, helping kids with both the physical part of the sport as well as the mental part, which also extends to business and life.
“I’m trying to develop people as well as players,” Mischel said. “A lot of life lessons I learned have come from sports. I want to teach these kids the value of camaraderie, teamwork and sportsmanship.”
According to Little Neck Douglaston Vice President of Baseball Ralph Cenname, the league anticipates quite a bit of growth after two rough years. After having 75 kids in the league in 2019, Little Neck Douglaston went without a season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With some kids traveling to Long Island to play Little League in 2020, the number of kids in the league in 2021 dipped to between 25 and 30. However, the current number of kids enrolled for Little League in 2022 has rebounded a bit to 50. By 2023, Cenname hopes to surpass the 75 players from 2019.
Cenname describes travel baseball as the biggest challenge faced by youth baseball leagues in Queens. He cites the fact that there is usually more competition in terms of the number of teams there. However, he still feels Queens baseball presents a great market for kids to learn and enjoy the game. Additionally, he feels the different baseball leagues around Queens that often come together to face each other reflect a stronger sense of community and fewer boundaries than those on Long Island that isolate themselves to their own towns.
“I find it very rewarding to help the kids who start out at 5 or 6 years old learn about the game and fundamentals,” Cenname said. “It’s very rewarding seeing them gain more confidence.”