When Throgs Neck Little League legend Leo Vitti passed away, a familiar face in the community stepped to the plate to lead the league. After over 50 years of service, Robert “Bob” Jonap saw the senior field he helped to build named in his honor in a ceremony on Saturday, October 18.
Councilman Jimmy Vacca was on hand at the ceremony, to show his support for Jonap, as well as to present a check for $250,000 in a NYC capital funding grant that will completely renovate the senior field.
“When I have the opportunity to support little leagues, I do because I know what it means to the kids,” Vacca said. “They represent a vehicle for kids to learn real-life skills from sports. I think this grant will mean significant rehabilitation.”
Vacca was quick to point out the number of senior citizens, like Jonap and others, who still take time to work with young people even though their own kids are grown.
The new funding will pay for a new generator, replace the junior and senior infields, new sprinkler system, new fencing on Harding and Throgs Neck Boulevard, energy efficient windows and a new roof for the clubhouse building, and top dressing and grading of both junior and senior fields.
“These are the projects that Bob Jonap wanted to do for many years, but we never had the money,” said Frank Eisele, treasurer of the league.
The Department of Design and Construction has put out bids, and initial construction is scheduled to begin on Tuesday, October 21 and completed by the end of the fiscal year, or June 30, 2009.
Jonap fondly remembered the early years of the league. He has been involved in the leage in one capacity or another since 1955. Jonap led the 1970 14- and 15-year-olds to the Little League World Series in Gary, Indiana, where the team lost a heartbreaker in the final game 2 to 1 to West Tampa Bay.
“When we started, we had one field for young kids with dirt, rocks, and grass,” Jonap said. “The little league when I first started had boys aged 8 to 12 years old. We expanded until we had 24 different teams of all ages in the little league.”
Jonap recalled that at one point, in 1965, the city wanted to turn the land where the senior field stands today into a sewage treatment plant. A two-year-battle ensued, where Jonap and others successfully fought the city’s plan, after winning the support of former Borough President Herman Badillo.
“Badillo really set it up – as long as we ran a little league it was ours – it couldn’t be sold or taken away,” Jonap stated. “Once we got the field, we started running bingo games. We raised funds and in 1968, we built this complex –the grass, fencing, underground sprinklers – all of it from bingo money.”
Jonap said at the ceremony he was grateful for the honor of having the field named after him.