Batter up for new Little League president

By Julie Shapiro

The Downtown Little League has a new leader this season: Tom Merrill, a Tribeca parent whose son started playing in the league five years ago.

Merrill, who turns 48 on Saturday, the same day as the Little League’s opening parade, replaces Mark Costello as president of the league. Costello remains on the league’s board of directors.

Merrill didn’t plan to coach a team when his son signed up in 2004, but he was late in registering and the only way to get his son on a team was to be a coach himself. Merrill joined the Downtown Little League board the next year and said both he and his son Will have made some of their closest friends on the field.

“It’s a community,” Merrill said. “I’ve seen these kids grow up through the Little League.”

Playing baseball in Lower Manhattan helped Will, now 12, meet other children in the neighborhood even though he goes to the Packer school in Brooklyn and did not attend Tribeca’s P.S. 234, Merrill said.

Merrill does not have any major changes planned for his rookie season as president of the league. Field space remains one of the league’s biggest challenges, and the limits of the Battery Park City ballfields forced Merrill to cap the program at 700 to 750 kids this year, about the same as last year.

The fields this spring won’t be the lush green carpet Little Leaguers are accustomed to, because the Battery Park City Authority did not reinstall the sod this year, Merrill said. Some natural grass has sprouted, but the fields will likely be more muddy than usual.

Leticia Remauro, B.P.C.A. spokesperson, said the authority was seeding and blanketing the fields this year, the same as always.

Merrill is looking forward to the installation of the permanent ballfields, likely made of artificial turf, when the adjacent Milstein Properties residential construction finishes in several years.

Until then, though, that construction poses another challenge: keeping the fields safe. Some parents have been skittish about children playing on the fields after a steel plate from the nearby Goldman Sachs construction landed in the middle of a Little League game last spring. Merrill is confident that the Goldman Sachs building is now close enough to being done that another such accident is unlikely, but the Milstein buildings even closer to the ballfields are just starting to rise.

Merrill plans to continue monitoring the safety of the fields, and if he thinks the nearby construction is unsafe, “Either they’ll stop, or we’ll stop,” he said.

When he’s not running the Little League, Merrill is general counsel for the city’s Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene.

This Saturday’s parade, which includes local politicians and an award ceremony, will start from City Hall Park at 8:30 a.m. and arrive at the B.P.C. ballfields shortly after 9:00.