Three years ago, as eighth grader Robert Van Zandt, Jr. prepared to head to Iona Prep, the Villa Maria senior left behind a legacy when his efforts to start a baseball team at the school finally came to fruition.
“My son is an avid baseball fan and he always wanted a baseball team at the school,” said Mary Van Zandt. “When he became student council president, he decided to make that one of his priorities.”
After reaching out to his father, Robert Van Zandt, Sr., owner of Van Zandt Agency, on Blondell Avenue, and receiving an ok from the school, the team was finally born.
The Bronx entrepreneur helped build his son’s team, buying uniforms, cleats and other equipment needs, and served as a co-manager along with Richard Rodriguez.
“Westchester puts out some competitive teams, and to tell you the truth, I think when we joined, people brushed us aside, believing we were just some team from the Bronx,” said Mary. “I think we ended up shocking a lot of people when we jumped right out the gate as a competitive force.”
The Villa Maria Falcons cruised to an impressive 11-2 record, before coming up short in the playoffs in its first season.
The next year, despite his son’s graduation from the school, Robert Van Zandt, Sr. kept the dream alive, remaining as coach, and leading the school to a 13-2 record. Villa reached the championship game, but lost in the finals.
This year, as Robert Van Zandt, Jr. cheered on from the dugout at the Astor Little League field, used by Villa Maria during the season, the Falcons capped off an amazing 16-0 record with a big win over its toughest rivals from Iona Grammar on June 25 to claim the title.
“I was so happy that my son was able to witness the team he fought so hard to create win a championship,” said Mary. “This was a big day for the whole family.”
But not the final big day at Villa Maria. Despite his daughter, Samantha entering her final year at Villa Maria, her father plans to be a fixture at the school for some time to come.
“He will continue to manage and sponsor the team for as long as they’ll allow,” Mary said. “We hope to win another championship next year.”