Kids with freckles and toothless smiles and fruit punch stains on their upper lips all flock to Kim Vescova when they spot her, giving her hugs and asking if she saw them out on the field.
“And how’d you do?” she asks Sally Stanton, a 9-year-old strawberry blonde who had just run up to her, stumbling into her side with a quick hug.
Sally, whose house was pummeled by the floods last summer, lists the distances of her hitting and running scores during the morning’s pitch, hit and run competition.
“The pitching — I didn’t get any,” she says, with a carefree shrug.
It was opening day for the Schoharie Little League and an emotional one for Vescova, whose title goes beyond program manager for New York Disaster Relief to that of de facto league mom.
Those driving north into the village on Saturday would have spotted all the cars and activity down in Fox Creek Park, the children visible in their bright uniforms, running around, swinging bats, weaving left and right to catch a ball.
Up close, the dirt-stained knees, the sweaty bangs poking out beneath baseball caps and the smells of tailgating could only mean one thing. It was summer and it was time to play ball.
“This is the gateway into Schoharie,” said Vescova, pointing toward the main drag up the hill. “Come over that bridge and the first thing you see are these fields. Today, they see a community celebrating instead of depressed. They see a successful rebuild, instead of a park that was just let go. They see how so many people can pull together and make this home.”
She and many others were up well past 1 a.m. Saturday, putting the finishing touches on the baseball, softball and T-ball fields, the dugouts and the concession stand.
By Saturday’s opening day ceremonies, an outsider never would have known the fields were under water last summer from Tropical Storm Irene. Not until they heard Little League President Vicki Palmatier over a microphone thank all the sponsors and donors who had helped rebuild the fields, clear away the debris, power wash buildings and mow grass and rewire and repaint, and so on.
“It has amazed me and restored my faith in people that we’ve come together and accomplished all this,” she said from the pitcher’s mound.
The littlest of kids didn’t necessarily understand what had been accomplished.
They just knew that they were running around and playing with their friends again or borrowing a dollar from their parents to get a root beer and a hot dog.
time for smiles
It was summer and everything was normal again, at least for those hours they were on the field, playing ball.
“Look around at all the smiles,” said Vescova. “For a lot of these kids, these are the only smiles they get. You can’t play in a backyard with nails and debris. You can’t play in a house under construction. Look at the smiles. That’s what this day is all about.”
Just before the parade of players began, each of the 18 teams lined up, youngest to oldest.
The shortest were in front, smashing their faces against the chain-link fence surrounding the baseball field, waiting for the Shade Tree Landscape and Design team (the orange T-ball team) to be called to the field.
Behind them were the older kids, the yellows of the Sunny Days Daycare team, maroons of the Schoharie Promotional Association, dark blues of the Gallupsville Methodist Men and the greens of the Cobleskill Stone team, among others.
Soon, the ceremonial parade began and the players trotted around the field, flanked by their team captains and standing shoulder to shoulder to create a diamond of colors that had the crowd cheering for the 50th season of the Schoharie Little League.
After the color guard’s salute to the flag and the singing of the National Anthem, Palmatier took to the field to award that morning’s competition winners and to ask a handful of the many donors to say a few words.
General Electric’s Global Projects Operation Vice President John LaVelle presented a check for $25,000 that the company had promised to the league in April, when it sent nearly 100 volunteers to the fields to help clean up and install a brand new scoreboard.
Upstate Chevrolet District Sales Manager Todd Reynolds presented a check for $2,500 to the league to help with further rebuilding efforts, and announced a donation of new equipment and a Chevy car and flat-screen TV raffle.
The donation was made on behalf of Upstate Chevrolet Dealers Local Marketing Association, Reynolds said before the day’s games began.
A local had told him of the great need in Schoharie and asked if the dealers would be willing to sponsor the League.
“The minute we heard about the need and understood that they had such devastating floods in the community, it was a no-brainer,” he said. “All the dealers pulled together and said, ‘We want to adopt the Schoharie Little League and we want to provide as much assistance as we can.’”
The local who reached out to him was Bruce Rumph, a Chevy employee in the region and a coach for one of the Little League teams.
gear and heart
Rumph had stopped by the fields at 1:30 a.m. Saturday to drop off the equipment that Chevy had donated — bases, duffel bags, catcher’s gear, batting helmets, first aid kits, etc.
“I brought all that stuff in and there were guys running around here trying to get the painting done and the electric done. The guy with the gas came this morning because the other gas company didn’t show, so he just dropped what he was doing and came. It was uplifting to see, there’s no doubt about it.”
As a member of the hard-hit community, Rumph was able to put the jubilance on kids’ faces Saturday into context.
He recalled driving through the village the day after the worst of the flooding.
He was heading down the main stretch and could see the turmoil on people’s faces.
“I’m watching these kids pull their toys, their personal belongings out of their houses with boots up to their knees and they’re crying because it’s irreplaceable,” he said. “They can’t replace that stuff. So these poor kids have been through hell, to put it in plain English, and this is a day that they can let out and have some fun.”
After the ceremonies had ended and before the teams would head back to the fields for their games, the crowd and players converged on the newly rebuilt concession stand.
The smells of hot dogs and chicken and the sight of parents chatting with other parents around the picnic tables were normal things for a typical summer day in America.
Or at least that’s how Vescova saw it. She was thinking about the lesson she tries to teach her own kids, and the lesson that the Little League tries to teach.
“Sometimes life knocks you down and you’ve got to get up and dust yourself off and push through it,” she said. “Realize that this situation, that flood, didn’t stop us. It didn’t stop us from having fun, from the community pulling together as one and dusting themselves off again.”