So, no one minded when the cold breeze that swept Saturday’s Opening Day ceremonies in Dongan Hills blew the Honda corporation’s $50,000 donation check from his hands. The league got some games in last week, so that might or might not have been the league’s first error of the season.
As it turned out, that was the only glitch on a day no wind, cold, or overcast skies could possibly ruin. Baseball and softball had returned to the Seaver Avenue complex, not necessarily in flawless fashion, certainly not without its share of anxious moments.
But after working the last six months to repair what eight feet of Hurricane Sandy’s waters wrought on the facility, Colini and the players, managers, and volunteers of the borough’s oldest little league finally opened up.
“It’s gonna be a great year,” a beaming Colini said before players of the six divisions ran onto Buddy Cusack-Monte Parish Field to watch Colini open the season with a powerhouse lineup that included Sen. Charles Schumer, city councilman James Oddo, state assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, and Hurricane Sandy Relief director Anthony Navarino. “It just shows, you can’t keep us down, no matter what.”
Aside from a few bare patches where the pounds of grass seed have yet to sprout, the three fields were green, lined, and ready for a full slate of games Saturday. The lights will have to wait until next season, but nobody seemed to mind.
“I feel good because I really want to play ball,” said 11-year-old Nicholas Fraschilla, a Dongan Hills resident who plays for Virginia Funeral Home. “I didn’t think we’d be here. When I first heard about the water, I thought it’d be a major setback. They did a great job to make sure we have a great time out there.”
NEVER A DOUBT
HP Post’s Scott Berntsen, 10, of Richmondtown, never had a doubt, though.
“We have a lot of hard workers here,” he said. “I figured they’d pull it off. I was happy every time they made progress and I heard the good news. We’re going to play on Opening Day, and I’m happy even though Sandy destroyed us.
“It taught me that no matter how hard something hits you, you always get back up.”
Old Town’s Brooke Lavelle, 8, said she was happy to be playing softball.
“I thought we weren’t going to play softball or baseball again,” she said. “It shows me how hard people worked.”
“I like softball and I was sad,” said Anne LiAntonio, 8, of Dongan Hills. “Now I’m happy. It was bad, but they did a good job.”
Volunteers consuming thousands of man hours first had to clear the mountain of debris from the fields. Then they moved dirt, reconstructed the infields, aerated and seeded the fields, and rebuilt the ruined clubhouse and snack stand. Donations such as the $10,000 the Staten Island Foundation delivered helped pay for repairs. But money was the least of it.
“Things didn’t look good in the beginning,” said New Dorp resident Vinny Volpe, who manned a Bobcat that transported dirt to the new infields. “I had my doubts. But they made it happen for the kids today.”
During his short address, Schumer pledged to direct some of the newly released federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds to the league as damage reimbursement.
As players, managers and coaches ringed the infield, the ceremonies started with a moment of silence for the victims of the Boston Marathon. Laura Moylan sang the National Anthem, and a prayer was offered.
After a few short speeches, Colini called upon Navarino and Malliotakis to form the battery for the ceremonial first pitch. Oddo bunted Navarino’s fastball down the middle, and a league that had almost no chance of playing on Oct. 29, 2012 returned.
“Mike always said, ‘There will be baseball!’” Volpe said.