BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER |
Around a thousand people streamed onto the Battery Park City ball fields on Sun., April 7 for the opening of the 2013 Downtown Little League season. Everyone was beaming.
The ball fields, trashed by Superstorm Sandy, had to be completely rebuilt and it was touch and go as to whether they would be ready in time for the Little League season.
In December 2012, the Battery Park City Authority, which owns and manages the fields, told Downtown Little League management that the fields would not be ready for the Little League season and urged them to look elsewhere. But there was no “elsewhere” to be found — and it was either get the fields ready in time or disappoint more than a thousand kids and their families.
Several politicians helped to expedite the process, most especially New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, who enlisted the help of artificial turf experts from the Mets to advise on the best and fastest way to restore the fields.
Hampered by snowstorms and rain, the work necessary to meet the deadline was heroic — and even as late as two weeks ago, the Battery Park City Authority was making no promises that April 7 would be opening day.
But it was to be — and even the weather cooperated. The sun came out. The TriBattery Pops played “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and the National Anthem. Everyone stood and placed their hands or their hats over their hearts, just like in the stadiums where the professionals play.
As usual, a conga line of politicians gave their blessings to the event. Former Community Board 1 chairperson Julie Menin was there, standing next to Borough of Manhattan president Scott Stringer. Menin is running for the office that Stringer currently holds, while Stringer is running for New York City comptroller.
New York State Senator Daniel Squadron, a candidate for public advocate, was also there, as was City Councilmember Margaret Chin and Catherine McVay Hughes, chairperson of C.B. 1.
Bill Martino, president of the Downtown Little League, introduced Speaker Silver as “our most valued player.” After being given a Downtown Little League shirt, he displayed a fine wind-up when he threw the first pitch.
Watching these proceedings was the man the kids most wanted to see — Dwight “Doc” Gooden, who pitched for the Mets in the 1980s and later for the Yankees. Now 48 years old, he retired in 2001, ending his career with a record of 194 wins to 112 losses and a Cy Young Award.
Gooden recalled for the kids his own start in baseball. He was eight years old, he said, playing for a team in Tampa, Florida where he was born. The facilities were nothing like you have here, he told the kids, and the team wasn’t very good. “So I quit,” he said.
The next year when he wanted to play, his father told him that if he quit again, he wouldn’t be allowed to play. So Gooden stayed with it and by the age of 12, it was clear that he was going to be more than a sandlot hero.
He made his major league debut with the New York Mets on April 7, 1984 at the age of 19. That would have been exactly 29 years to the day before his appearance at the opening of the Downtown Little League.
After the speeches, there was a carnival on Warren St. and Gooden signed autographs. His message to the kids was to work with your team, have fun — and don’t quit. No matter what.
At noon, the games began. Eight games took place on the Battery Park City ball fields that afternoon. For the record, the Pilots beat the Expos, 5 to 2; the Senators beat the Dodgers, 4 to 3; the Browns beat the Giants, 9 to 8; and the Braves beat the Athletics, 7 to 2.
The season continues through June 23.