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After a Long Hard Winter, Play Ball!

A certain sign of spring is Little League opening day. The kids who have trained during February and March in batting cages and parking lots around the area are now ready to ply their skills on manicured fields throughout our town.

After a long hard winter with record snowfall amounts that even had a snowy wintry mix descend upon us last week, we are finally easing into spring. While the weather is still a bit erratic, the page is finally turning and the signs of spring abound. I saw my first Robin about three weeks ago, admittedly while snow was still on the ground and I actually caught a few innings of a Yankee game this past weekend.

In Washington D.C. the famed Cherry Blossoms are in full bloom, while this weekend The Master’s Golf Tournament will take place. The Master’s for me is a certain sign that spring is indeed here. It is my favorite of all the major golf events, steeped in tradition and a veritable right of passage from winter to the spring for golf enthusiasts. The Magnolia trees and flowers in Augusta in full bloom while the world’s best golfers navigate “Amen Corner” bring not only excitement, but for me, marks that spring is here.

However, the surest sign of spring is the opening of the Little League Season that occurred this past weekend and will be marked with ceremonies again this coming weekend.

This past Saturday, several leagues were scheduled to hold opening day ceremonies; while two were postponed due to the rainy weather making the fields muddy, most did play games on Sunday. The Congers Little League held its Opening Day Ceremony on the field behind the Veterans Memorial Association Building  and honored its longtime former President John Mangan. The ceremony was touching as the field house off of Hemlock Drive was named after Mangan in recognition of his 22 years of service as the president of the league. John Mangan toiled in service long after his own children were out of the league. He, like Richie Cesca in West , is still involved many years later helping generations of children learn to love baseball. The boards of directors of each league work hard to manage the fields, schedule games and run the business operations that allow thousands of our youth to learn to play and love the game which has become our nation’s pastime.

Games were played on Saturday and Sunday in several of the leagues with opening ceremonies set to take place this weekend in Nanuet, New City and West Nyack. As a Councilman I fully enjoy attending the opening ceremonies for these leagues to see the wonder of our young players excited to start a new season.

In Nanuet, the children gather along with the coaches at the George Miller Elementary School at 8:30 a.m. and step off for a parade from Miller to the field complex adjacent to Lake Nanuet. The residents of the area along with families gather along the roadway to cheer the kids on and welcome a new season. They are usually escorted by the Nanuet Fire Department and a full array of elected officials. Upon arrival at the field, a ceremony is held with each team and coaches recognized followed by the national anthem, speeches, the little league oath of good sportsmanship. This is followed by the ceremonial first pitch and the call of “Play Ball” announcing the start of yet another season. In Nanuet it is precise, well-organized and sets the tone for a good season. A countdown clock marks the days and hours to the parade on the Nanuet website an assurance that spring baseball and new life are right around the corner.

This coming weekend, New City will hold its opening ceremonies also at 8:30 a.m. with the parade from the outer field to the main field where the coaches and teams will be recognized. New City does it a little differently as they usually have a former major league player offer remarks who throws out the ceremonial first pitch. Last year former New York Yankee and Met Mike Torres did the honors. This year I expect another retired star will do the honor of offering a few brief remarks, throw out the first pitch and sign autographs.

According to Lon Hofstein, who is in his eighth year as President of the league,

“We will finalize and announce the guest by Monday night. This year we have over 900 children in the New City Little League; it is the largest league in Rockland County. We take pride in that we have a very strong softball program as well as baseball. Consistently, our softball teams get through the sectionals but also to the state championships. However what I am most proud of in New City is that we give back. Each year we donate to ARC of Rockland to lead by example in helping others. We make it a point to teach the children they need to give back. We also are committed to making improvements to our fields like Strawtown, where we added batting cages. Our next project is to change the lights, we are continuously working to make it a better program and improve the playing conditions for our kids."

Despite the business of schedules, concessions and upgrades, Hofstein cites sportsmanship and teamwork as the highest priorities.

“New City takes great pride in training our managers and players that winning is important but the team effort and good sportsmanship is the greatest accomplishment for our children. It is these things that we stress to the kids that will make them better in life and make all of us better.”

This year New City will also honor the late John Amendola a former New City Director who died last August. He was affectionately called “The Corporal” for the discipline he instilled in the league, which was second only to the love that he had for the players. According to Hofstein, “The Juniors and seniors will wear purple stripes with a ‘JA’ on the sleeve to commemorate John Amendola’s life. We don’t forget people like John who gave so much too so many. We will honor him and his wife Patty will be in attendance.”

This is yet another important lesson for life that our children will learn Saturday, namely to remember those who have paved the way before us in life.

West Nyack will open a little later at 10 a.m.. For league Vice President Richie Cesca, it will be his 37th opening day. Anyone involved in the West Nyack little league knows well that Richie has been a driving force in the growth and success of the league. Like John Mangan, Richie has remained a fixture long after his own children have grown and married. He remains involved like so many others across our country for love of the game and affection for the children. I asked Richie how different this year is from the first; he offered,

“Thirty-seven years ago, we took an unused field and reclaimed it so we could play ball. Over the years we have raised money and put a lot of time, effort and money into the fields. Today, we have grown into a league with several fields, a full-service concession stand and operate more like a business. We have 600 kids in the league this year and are excited about the work that will take place this year on the rear field, which will allow us next year to better serve and expand our play.”

As per the schedule Cesca offered, “This year all of the leagues are under additional pressure because Little League International moved up its television schedule for the World Series and we have to get our games in so we can be ready for the District Tournament play. We have games this week and we will have games on Saturday after the ceremony.”

Richie has been Vice President for 36 of his 37 years in the league and is known in little league circles as somewhat of a guru in field maintenance. He trains youngsters to respect and work on the fields and, like in Nanuet, Congers and New City, the West Nyack fields are in impeccable shape. He assists John D’Urso who has been the president for the last four years.         

Despite the long arduous winter with seemingly never ending snow storms spring is finally here. The new life that we will witness in bloom in the coming months will renew all of us. A certain sign of spring is opening day where the kids who have trained during February and March in batting cages and parking lots around the area are now ready to apply their improved skills on manicured fields throughout our town. These children are our future.

The athletic skills they display, while important, are second to the real acquired skill that they will learn again this year of good sportsmanship and teamwork. It is this lesson above all that they will learn anew this season and carry forward with them in life. To the children, league directors, volunteers and coaches, especially to people like John Mangan and Richie Cesca, we wish a good season of sunshine and no rainouts. We thank all who teach our children the important lessons of good sportsmanship the unsung heroes who help to herald in yet another spring and little league baseball season in Clarkstown.

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