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Bayside parade welcomes Little League’s Opening Day

A sea of more than 1,500 proud parents, baseball players and community members celebrated the kick−off of the Bayside Little League season Saturday with the annual parade down Bell Boulevard and festivities at Crocheron Park.

Parents and children, so excited they were frequently seen jumping up and down, were joined in the celebration by former Mets player Ed Kranepool, U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D−Forest Hills), state Sen. Frank Padavan (R−Bellerose), City Councilman Tony Avella (D−Bayside), Father Bob Whelan of Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament and City Council candidates for the 19th District Jerry Iannece, the former chairman of Community Board 11, and Debra Markell.

Each of the dignitaries managed to get the ball over home plate as they pitched the first balls of the season after Bayside resident Kerin Daly, 17, sang the National Anthem for the sixth consecutive year.

“It’s a big day,” said Bob Reid, commissioner of the Little League, which has 62 teams and more than 900 players ages 4 to 18.

Reid, too, threw one of the first pitches of the season.

“The kids learn a lot in the league,” Reid added. “They learn how to be team players, they learn about leadership, responsibility and dedication.”

Matthew Santagato, Reid’s 11−year−old grandson, said he was excited the season had begun.

“Baseball is really fun,” said Santagato, who frequently plays second base.

Pint−sized players were especially thrilled to receive autographs from Kranepool after the ceremony at Crocheron Park.

“As part of the Mets for 18 years, I played two World Series, and I know this is the most exciting part of the year: preparing for the season,” Kranepool told the crowd. “You certainly have a great program here in Bayside.”

Baseball definitely got more cheers than politics Saturday, with students and parents bursting into applause after Kranepool’s statements, but giving a lukewarm round of clapping after longtime candidate Avella said he wants “to come back next year as the mayor of New York.”

Cesar Alvero and Mike Arnold, who coach a team of 17 5− and 6−year−olds, said the league plays a pivotal role in many of the children’s lives.

“This is the start of friends for life for these kids,” said Arnold, a Little League coach for 15 years. “This teaches them they can be as good as they want to be.”

Padavan praised the league on Saturday, his 37th year at opening day.

“This league has gotten bigger and better,” said Padavan, who is sponsoring the team Padavan’s Paragons.

Padavan has recently gone to bat for Bayside Little League after learning little leagues throughout Queens may not be able to purchase discounted tickets or lead a parade prior to a game in the new Citi Field. The senator wrote a letter to Mets CEO Fred Wilpon asking him to allow the pint sized players to be able to buy the tickets and head up the parade.

Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by e−mail at agustafson@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 174.

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