I grew up with a passion for sports — the thrill and the battle of fierce competition. Now, mind you, it could have been any type of sport, it didn’t matter. Whatever my dad’s allowance and a paycheck from my small paper route could afford, I signed up. Baseball or softball in the summer, hockey and football in the winter, heck, I even went as far as joining a knock-hockey/table tennis league one spring at a local youth center. I loved that thrill of competition. I even coached three sports teams; two of them in one winter season, hockey and flag football. Even today, I still play softball, maybe a little slower than I used to, but two or three games a week suits me fine.
When I was asked to research the possibility of The Downtown Alliance sponsoring a neighborhood Little League team, I was floored. It was one of the those “Why didn’t I think of that…?” moments.
In the fourth quarter of 2007 I began to research local sport teams and sponsorships in our area and I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a Little League was located right here in Lower Manhattan. It’s called the Downtown Little League, a nonprofit organization serving children in Lower Manhattan, established in 1992. This league provides organized baseball and softball for children, aged six to 16, living in Tribeca, Battery Park City, and other downtown neighborhoods.
I contacted one of the co-treasurers of the league, David Glovin, who gave me a great background of the league and its inner-workings. By the time our conversation ended, I was sold.
In 2008, the Downtown Alliance’s first year as sponsors, we were assigned to a division called the Rookie League, made up of 6-year-old future-stars. Our team, the Athletics, played the bulk of its games between 8am and 10:30am every Saturday, April to June, many of which I attended.
I had the pleasure of being introduced to the manager for the Athletics at the time, Jim Vertucci. In detail, we discussed his players, the fields (for the Rookie League the games are played at Rockefeller Park and the Fields in Battery Park City) and rules of the game. For sportsmanship purposes (especially important for this age group) team standings, runs in a game and statistics were merely a formality. These fantastic coaches, including Coach Vertucci, teach this group of six- and seven-year-olds the fundamentals of basic sportsmanship. Watching these games is a pure joy. While you may read in some daily publications about overzealous parents berating coaches on and off the field or his or her own child in public, this league conveys a different message. Parents, coaches, fans, siblings, relatives, etc., are extremely nurturing and supportive in every way possible.
Our first end of the year party was very special. I arranged with Coach Vertucci to have the festivities brought right onto the field after the Athletics’ last game. This was a terrific surprise to the parents and kids and they thoroughly enjoyed this impromptu gathering. I had the special honor of handing out the trophies to all the kids (each one gets one no matter what) and had an opportunity to say a few words to the kids and parents about the great job everyone did that season. At Coach Vertucci’s signal, I was immediately swarmed with thanks by the kids and parents — heartwarming, to say the least.
It’s funny — when you watch a little league baseball game in a beautiful location like Rockefeller Park with parents and coaches cheering on their kids, running down the baseline the wrong way, throwing to the wrong base, sliding into first base, errors galore — none of those things matter. Watching these games eventually allows you forget about all the “important adult stuff” we all think about on a daily basis. It gives you a sense of calm. Your senses awaken when you sit by the field and actually smell the freshly mowed and manicured outfield grass. With all the things we worry about, tend to, care about and advocate for, the gray hairs really start to build up. Watching these little athletes gives us the opportunity to relax, enjoy their moment and take some time to smell the grass.