The crack of the bat long ago was replaced by the ping of aluminum. Over the decades, Little League Baseball has added girls, night games and teams from six continents, and sold TV rights to its annual championship tournament to cable television.
But Bob Reid, president of the Bayside Little League, said one thing that remains the same is the look on children’s faces when they go to their coach’s home or crowd around his car in late March or early April to pick up their caps and jerseys.
“The kids still smile from ear to ear,” he said, one day before Bayside’s annual inaugural parade up Bell Boulevard to Crocheron Park on April 13.
Boys and girls from 5 to 17 have started playing throughout Queens with dreams of being the next David Wright or Matt Harvey.
There will be parades much like the one in Bayside. And players who signed up in the cold of winter and are now wearing sweatshirts beneath their uniforms will be playing in a few weeks in T-shirts amid 75-degree temperatures.
The parents and volunteers were out long before the kids, getting the fields into playing shape, mowing the grass and raking away the stones that can cause those tricky bad hops.
“We’ve been working on the fields for over a month,” Reid said. “All our fields are city-owned fields. We have a couple of trailers on site. We have tools, equipment, two lawn mowers. We were the pilot program with the Parks Department for that, because they just don’t have the people.”
And just as hard work and dedication on the part of the kids pay off, the people who serve as coaches-schedulers-groundskeepers-umpires-first aid attendants-batting practice pitchers also can have their day in the sun.
Emblematic this year is Phil Fragale, honored on April 6 by the Forest Hills Little League at its annual opening day ceremonies.
“He’s been helping us out for about 35 years,” said Larry Berkowitz, executive director of the league, speaking from their field complex on Fleet Street. “We thought it was time to do something for him.”
While there are other baseball organizations in the borough, it is the official Little League groups that have the most members, organization and cache.
Forest Hills has 675 players ages 5 to 12 this year.
They also have more than 100 girls participating on nine softball teams.
Reid said Bayside has agreements with programs in neighboring areas for girls wanting to play softball. He said their baseball enrollment, with seven divisions for children 5 to 17, is one of the largest in the area, with almost 800 players.
Bayside has a pair of alums who have made it to the big leagues.
Mike Baxter is still playing baseball in Queens, roaming the outfield and basepaths at Citi Field as a member of the New York Mets.
Dave Valle, a commentator for the MLB Network and the Seattle Mariners, played 13 seasons in the majors between 1984 and 1996 as a catcher for the Mariners, Boston Red Sox, Milwaukee Brewers and Texas Rangers.
Primarily considered a defensive catcher, Valle hit 77 career home runs.
Two local political figures also made that march up Bell Boulevard, including Assemblyman Ed Braunstein (D-Bayside), and Austin Shafran, who is running as a Democrat for the City Council.
No word on how good Braunstein was at going to his right on a batted ball, while Shafran played minor league ball.
Forest Hills, more of a tennis neighborhood when Little League Baseball came to town in 1954, first got its own field in 1964, according to Berkowitz, the forerunner to the multifield complex the league now enjoys.
FHLL has not had players graduate to Major League Baseball yet.
Reid said the Bayside program was founded in 1951.
“A very good year for baseball in New York City,” he noted, one that included a historic pennant struggle between the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers, culminating with Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard ’round the world” before the Giants bowed in the World Series to the Yankees.
Reid, with the league since 1986, comes from the Elmhurst baseball program.
“In those days you had to try out to make a team,” he said. “Some boys didn’t make it. Today, everyone who signs up makes a team. The idea is for the kids to have fun.”
Youth baseball programs in Queens
Bayside Little League
College Point Little League
Phone: 718-460-8408 or 718-640-8022.
Elmjack Little League
(Elmhurst and Jackson Heights):
Website: leaguelineup.com/welcome.asp? cmenuid=1&url=elmjack
79-10 19th Ave.
Jackson Heights, NY 11370
Forest Hills Little League
Ozone Howard Little League
Middle Village-Maspeth Little League
Rochdale Village Little League
169-65 137th Ave Queens, NY 11434?
WORKS Little League
(Richmond Hill and Woodhaven)