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Forest Hills Little League opens for yet another season

Christopher Martinez slides into home to score a run for his team during Opening Day at the Forest Hills Little League. Photo by Christina Santucci
TimesLedger Newspapers

For more than half a century, parents and their little sluggers have anxiously awaited the beginning of the Forest Hills Little League season, and on Saturday the ceremonial Opening Day did not disappoint them.

“I was so excited to play my first game today I could smell the dirt!” said Clayton Frank, who plays shortstop on the team sponsored by Madeleine Realty with his best friend, 7-year-old Gabe McNeela.

Frank was just one of the approximately 700 young baseball and softball players to register this season with the league, which owns five fields between Alderton Street and Thornton Place. Owning their own fields and maintaining them in such pristine condition is a great source of pride for the league’s community.

Abe Miller, 90, played a pivotal role more than 50 years ago in acquiring a permanent home for the league. Back then, the league was nomadic, traveling all over the borough to find available fields.

“We played wherever we could,” Miller said. “At LeFrak City and Park Place. The rest we played in Flushing Meadows Park.”

The city owned the current field, which was lush and verdant for the day’s ceremony, and when it was looking to sell the property to a developer, the Little League was told if it could come up with the money, the field was theirs.

Miller went around to families and elected officials, but still came up short, so he decided to take a shot in the big leagues.

“We got a loan from the Mets,” he said. “It was Joan Payson, the owner, and she later forgave the loan for $1.”

Miller stood at center field with City Councilwomen Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) and Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), state Assembly members Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and Andrew Hevesi (D-Forest Hills) and state Sen. Toby Stavisky (D-Whitestone) to thank them for making Opening Day possible.

Teams of young players lined up in the outfield on a sunny, warm day that seemed made for baseball, and the Forest Hills American Legion prepared to present the country’s flag.

Cathy Strez said the Opening Day ceremony was one of her favorite times of the year.

“They make a pageant of it,” she said. “It really enriches the community for the kids.”

Hevesi called the league the “bedrock of a great community” and urged the eager athletes to “have a great season, play hard, play fair and be safe.”

He then took to the mound to throw out the ceremonial first pitch, but upon examining the distance to home plate, the assemblyman decided to move up a few feet, where he was joined by Koslowitz and Coach Louie Goldstein.]

All three wound up, and their throws sailed with high arcs to their destinations.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at rbockmann@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4574.

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