Kids of summer celebrate season’s opening

[media-credit name=”Photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer” align=”aligncenter” width=”600″][/media-credit]The weather was perfect and the enthusiasm was infectious — it was an ideal opening for the 2012 season of the Downtown Little League on April 21.

The kids were thrilled by the appearance of Willie Randolph who had an 18-year career as a big league player, including 13 years with the Yankees, and a more recent career as a manager with the Mets and the Baltimore Orioles. He was in six World Series he told the crowd — twice as a player and four times as a manager. He looked admiringly at the Battery Park City ball fields, now covered with artificial turf, and recalled the motley lots he played on as a kid in Brownsville. “This looks like a living room!” he said as he urged the kids to work hard, have fun and get an education above all else.

The artificial turf has proven to be a big success said Mark Costello, former president of the D.L.L. and one of those who fought hard for the new playing surface. He said that the turf has enabled the teams to have a longer season and that fears about the turf overheating had not materialized because of the way it is constructed. “It’s made of coconut shells instead of rubber tires,” he said. The field drains well, he added, so that it is playable again soon after storms that would have turned grass fields to mud.

The one drawback may be that balls bounce differently on the artificial turf surface than they would on grass, which has more irregularities. This means that when D.L.L. teams play away games at places like Central Park or Randall’s Island, they have to recalibrate their play, Costello said.

On opening day, viewing stands on the west side of the ball fields made their debut. They are equipped with benches but onlookers stood against the railings for a better view. Ten games were played on the two fields.

The league is growing. There are now just fewer than 1,000 players on 74 teams said D.L.L. president Bill Martino. Last year there were 890 players. Martino attributed the growth to a growing community plus the addition of some new divisions for younger players. The league season continues through the end of June.

— Terese Loeb Kreuzer

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