It’s not always been easy, but 60 years later, the Pelham Bay Little League is still swinging.
Both the boys’ division and the girl’s softball division, the Pelham Bay Belles, kicked off play last weekend for the 60th season at Naclerio Field under the rumbling Westchester Avenue elevated subway tracks at Tan Place.
Keeping the league running all this time, said current PPBLL head Vinnie Prestopino, has been anything but a walk in the park.
Tussle with the city
Besides being home to youth baseball and softball during the spring and summer, PPBL’s three diamond fields are the site of an ongoing legal tussle with the city Parks Department over $10,000 worth of damage contractors allegedly caused to the field’s sprinkler system when they renovated the field in 2012, using a $200,000 grant netted from Councilmember Jimmy Vacca four years earlier.
PPBL’s lawsuit charges that the city’s contractor, Brooklyn-based UA Construction, broke the field’s underground sprinkler heads even though they were clearly marked off with orange tape – with the league forced to foot the bill.
That legal battle remains unresolved, with former state assemblyman Steve Kaufman representing the league against the city pro-bono.
Another foe: snow
Sprinkler-related issues caused the league to play a shortened schedule last season. This year, a historically snowy winter slowed down field repairs, with volunteers shoveling in 35 tons of clay in order to get the field ready, said Prestopino.
“There are sleepless nights, there are panic attacks,” he said. “But we always find a way to make it work.”
PPBL has made it work for 60 years now, ever since neighborhood staple threw its first pitch in Pelham Bay Park in 1954, with Jerry Mazza as its president.
After playing there for just under 15 years, the league moved to a former Indian reservation site at Bruckner Boulevard and Country Club Road, said Prestopino.
When the Smithsonian institute took over that site a few years later, the league moved again —this time to a vacant patch of land owned by the city’s Park Department, where they built Naclerio Field in the early 1980’s, Prestopino said.
The league has played there ever since, staying afloat with registration fees, sponsorships from local businesses and the occasional grant from a local elected official.
But Prestopino said the true engines that keeps the league running are the local parents who give their time to maintain the fields and coach the teams.
“The place don’t run unless we have volunteers,” he said. “With no volunteers, we put a lock on the door.”