Opinion: Great American Pastime

By former Assemblyman Steven Sanders

On Saturday morning, a great community is tradition will be renewed. Led by President Seth Coren, the Peter Stuyvesant Little League baseball season kicks off its 62nd year. It will be preceded by the parade of players and their parents starting from First Avenue at 20th Street and finishing at the Con Ed baseball facility at Avenue C and 16th Street.

In the early 1960s I played in our Little League organization. But in those days, we were homeless. We did not have a field to call our own. We played on the West Side of Manhattan and on Randall’s Island in the middle of the East River. But thanks to the partnership with Con Edison, land adjacent to the East River was developed into ball fields and became home to our local teams which have grown to over 60 teams more than 700 youngsters and scores of adult volunteers coaching, umpiring and taking care of the grounds.

Baseball is the Great American Pastime. It connects families and generations to each other. To underscore that point, when World War II began in the dark days of 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote to the baseball commissioner and asked him not to suspend Major League Baseball games while this country fought for the salvation of civilization. Roosevelt believed that baseball was that important to the American spirit.

So as the chill of March gives way to the warming temperatures of April, you can see dads and moms outside with their kids sporting baseball gloves, bats and balls renewing this great game. Pretty soon the arguments begin. Who was the greatest hitter of all time? Who was the best pitcher? Was Willie Mays better than Joe DiMaggio? Is Aaron Judge the next coming of Babe Ruth? Will the Mets’ pitching hold up and carry them back to the playoffs?

The terrific thing about baseball discussions is that there are no right or wrong answers, and there is no politics. Only an enthusiasm for the game.

For many it all begins with the Little League. Kids are taught athletic skills and other important ethics, not the least of which is teamwork. No one player is more important than the whole team. That is a lesson that can hold people in good stead for their lifetime, if only they remember.

Some years after my playing days were over I managed a team with my good friend, Eddie Gottlieb, also from Stuyvesant Town. Our star first baseman John Messina batted .333 but we still ended up with a sub .500 record. John took those lessons learned in our Little League and batted 1,000 in the game of life. He became a wonderful husband, father and ultimately the president of our Little League. He presided over the organization with great distinction until he succumbed to cancer and left us too soon. But we are so much richer for having known him.

John became the man that he was in part due to his experiences with our Little League. Phil McManus succeeded John and kept the great tradition going and now Seth Coren is taking the organization to an even higher level.

So the season begins again on Saturday as Seth and his small army of Little League adult volunteers lead the way, followed by hundreds of eager kids ready to make their mark in baseball and life. And as it has been for decades it will all start with those two exciting words: “Play ball!”

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