When the Hollis-Bellaire-Queens Village-Bellerose-Athletic Association Little League baseball and softball program started play in 1954, Mickey Mantle was patrolling center field for the Yankees and the Mets were still eight years away from coming into existence.
Prior to the first pops of the glove and the pings of the aluminum bats, all 28 of the league’s teams will march from Hillside Avenue and 217th Street in Queens Village to the Padavan-Preller Complex in Bellerose on Saturday at 11 a.m. in the league’s annual opening day parade.
Who knows, maybe the next great New York baseball player will be marching?
“I’m ecstatic for Saturday,” league president Ken Conyers said. “We’re supposed to have beautiful weather too, perfect for baseball.”
Back in 1954, the league’s first president was the late Bill Gallo, the legendary Daily News cartoonist, and games were played on the HBQVBAA’s lone field, which was built by the players’ parents.
Today, the Padavan-Preller Complex at 236-02 Hillside Ave. is used mainly by the Little League, features nine ball fields and was built over the course of the league’s existence.
Conyers said about 500 children are enrolled in the HBQVBAA, but because eight area high schools and five colleges play their home games at the league’s fields, about 50,000 ball players enjoy the complex.
“We are one of the only leagues in New York State that has its own privately owned complex,” he said. “We’re happy to have a complex to have the kids play at.”
With renovations expected at the complex in the coming years and additional sports to be added alongside baseball and flag football, Conyers is excited for the next six decades of youth athletics in eastern Queens.
“We’re definitely excited,” he said. “It’s been a great last 60 years and we’re looking forward to the next 60 years ahead.”