Fall Ball a hit with young players

By Judith Stiles

In the autumn, baseball across the country is winding down for almost everyone, except teams that are contenders for the World Series and those devoted fans that stay glued to the television to watch the final showdown between the American and National leagues. Look out, the season is ending and baseball withdrawal is looming. Youth players put away their bats and gloves for soccer balls, footballs, hockey sticks and the like except for a handful of teams in New York City who are nuts enough to continue with baseball even when it is 41 degrees outside.

In Greenwich Village the diehard baseball kids know they will have a game, even in November, if the temperature would kindly remain above 40 degrees, because Little League rules stipulate no games will be played if the temperature drops below 41. Fourth-grader Avery Perez of P.S. 41 says he is not worried about frozen feet or numb knuckles. “Keep moving around and just wear batting gloves even under your baseball glove, because it is softer on your palm when you catch the ball,” he advises.

Perez is one many neighborhood children who played baseball in the spring and summer with Greenwich Village Little League, and just can’t give it up this fall, not yet. He may have to don long underwear beneath his uniform come November, but he will be out there participating in an exciting season of G.VL.L. “Fall Ball,” in which local boys and girls continue with baseball in three divisions, as well as a team of girls over 13 years old who will be playing on a G.V.L.L. fall softball team. Tryouts have already been held and players have been carefully drafted to play on Majors A and B tournament teams.

But what about the younger beginners who did not make the cut but still desperately want to play Fall Ball? What about 9-year-old Tommy who loves baseball and has nowhere to practice and nobody to teach him the game? No brothers, no cousins, no stickball in the street and a single mother who thinks the Florida Marlins is the name of a cruise ship. No problem: See Arthur Perez director and coach of the Fall Ball division that meets every Sunday for instruction, drills and games in a prep division of G.V.L.L. that builds skills and confidence in an upbeat and rigorous learning environment. “We do a lot of freeze play,” says Perez, “where we stop the game for quick instruction. For example, if there are two men out and a runner on first and second, where is the play? Some kids don’t know the answer and have been to shy to ask.”

The instructional division of Fall Ball for 8- and 9-year-olds began three years ago with nine children who did not make the cut for the tournament team but were eager to play. In 2004, this division is so popular that it now has 48 kids playing Sunday mornings at J.J. Walker Field. Coach Perez has noticed over the years that many kids, even though they have a burning desire to be good at baseball, “fear the hardball and treat it like it is a live grenade. When they finish with this program, they feel very comfortable with the ball, almost like it’s a cool toy they can do tricks with,” notes Perez. “Practice is very important, but building confidence in your players is about 80 percent of the battle,” he adds.

Everybody in the Greenwich Village youth sports world knows Coach Perez by now. His congenial personality and his enthusiasm for all sports has brought him to coaching Fall Ball as well as being the division coordinator of G.V.L.L. Majors B baseball for spring 2005. He also coaches two recreational teams for the Downtown United Soccer Club, including one for his daughter Sara, age 5, and the other for his son Avery, 9. Coach Perez played all summer in the Sunday family pickup baseball games at J.J. Walker, and has been known to be a stand-in goalie for the soccer moms who have made him an honorary member of the gang.

Perez was born in New York City, one of six children, soon to be nine children when his mother adopted three more — just enough for a baseball team — who mostly played “my block against your block” stickball in the streets of Brooklyn. Although Perez misses the informality of street stickball, he is grateful for all the organized youth sports available to city kids today. As a coach he has carried forward several important lessons from stickball days regarding good sportsmanship and team sports. “Know your teammates,” says Perez. “It sounds simple but it is fundamental. You need to learn a lot more than their names to play as a team.” And unlike the days of stickball where you could run indoors for a cool drink, he reminds players to be sure to bring a drink to practice, and oh, yes, for Fall Ball you don’t have to worry about the drink staying cool.

For more information visit www. Greenwichvillagelittleleague.org.