While the opening of the little league season featured the usual parade down E. Tremont Avenue to the Throgs Neck Boulevard fields, this year's journey concluded at the newly named Leo Vitti Field.
Family, friends and league supporters had a day of remembrance for the beloved man who serviced the organization for more than 50 years.
“My dad was a great man and we were lucky to have him for all of these years, and the community was lucky to have him, too,” said daughter Leah Vitti-DelVecchio, who along with her siblings, mother and extended family represented Vitti at the celebration.
“This was never about him, but the honor is well deserved,” she continued.
Those who knew him cited Vitti's years of toil, fundraising diligently through Bingo and community bazaars to finance the league's future successes.
Though the Locust Point native wasn't the founder of the Throgs Neck League, which began in 1952 as the Northeast Bronx Little League, he's considered its father since he saved it from bankruptcy in 1953.
League vice president Bob Jonap, who said his friendship with Vitti stretches back more than 50 years, expressed his own fond memories.
“He just did so much for the community over the years — he was the backbone of this little league,” he said. “There are over 400 kids in this league, and he is going to be missed tremendously, by them and all the players from throughout the years.”
The honor of the field's name now joins the annual Leo Vitti Memorial Tournament, as regular reminders of the league's forefather.
The event began last August and featured seven and eight year olds on seven local teams, which included Throgs Neck and Castle Hill.
Many local leaders and longtime community members were pleased to see the fitting reminder of Vitti's dedication to the sport.
“Leo kept it going; he devoted his life to it,” said Ben Randazzo, chief of staff to Assemblyman Michael Benedetto and an alumni parent of the league. Of league mainstays like Vitti and Jonap, he said, “They didn't just do it, they live it.”
Councilman Jimmy Vacca recalled memories from his beloved friend, “I knew Leo for 30 years, and when I first met him, he was already an institution in Throggs Neck,” he said. “All of us leave behind an imprint when we pass on, but Leo Vitti's legacy of service to the local youth is simply incomparable. The league's decision to name its clubhouse after Leo is a more than fitting honor.”
Jim McQuade, owner of Schuyler Hill Funeral Home and the honoree's neighbor for many years, called Vitti “one of the nicest men you'd ever meet.”
The festivities of the day had many highlights, including the announcement of a $20,000 grant from Senator Jeff Klein's office for new fencing.
“When it comes to our youth we've got to swing for the fences,” the senator said wittily. “I'm proud to support our little leagues which teach our children the value of teamwork and community: when we play together everyone wins!”
©2008 Community News Group