Daniel Lopez and his 7-year-old son, Daniel Jr., ran through the rain from the crowded parking lot, past hamburgers and hot dogs cooking on grills, to an open gate in a chain-link fence surrounding Eric J. Verteramo Memorial Field.
Lopez let go of his son’s hand and Daniel Jr. sprinted across the infield. His T-ball team, the Rotterdam Elks, had already taken the field with nine other teams on Schenectady Little League’s opening day.
“He’s been excited for a while now,” said the Schenectady man who grew up in Amsterdam as he watched his son join his teammates on the field.
This is Daniel Jr.’s first year in the league.
“I never did Little League; I did street baseball with my friends,” his father said. “I didn’t really play in an organized league, but I really wanted my son to get in there and play baseball.”
About 330 kids from 28 teams took to the diamond Saturday, ready to play ball in the expanded league. This is the first spring of baseball after Schenectady Little League merged with Northside to bring the city’s entire population of players into one organization. The move followed a decline in the number of players.
“It’s a long time in the making, but I’m glad we’re here, and I’m glad we only had a few minutes of rain,” said Ryan Pezzano, league co-president, who emceed the opening day ceremonies. “I’m not going to say that it’s been exactly easy or smooth sailing, but I think what it does is what we saw here today: It’s 28 baseball teams — we have the whole city to choose from.”
The sun came out in time for the season to begin, with two teams from the majors, Aumiller’s Pharmacy and Princetown Patterns, taking the field for the first of three games. But first, Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy threw out the first pitch.
Pezzano announced it as a strike, but Aumiller’s Dylan Lonergan, who caught the pitch, knew better: He said the pitch came in a little high.
“It was a ball,” the 12-year-old Schenectady boy said.
One of Lonergan’s coaches, Scott Ray, remembers when there were enough kids playing baseball to support four leagues in Schenectady. But in 2008, faced with declining numbers, Schenectady Little League merged with JC and Bellevue. Now, with Northside joining the league, there are 10 T-ball teams, seven at the farm level, seven in the minors and four in the majors, with players ranging in age from 4 to 12.
“The best thing is that we were able to combine and to keep it going,” said Ray, who first coached Little League in the 1970s as a high school student in Norwich.
Ray’s 12-year-old grandson is on his team, and his 5-year-old grandson is playing T-ball.
“We have enough kids here for four major teams, and that’s good,” he said. “And hopefully the competition will be good, we’ll have fun and the kids will have fun and learn and enjoy the baseball season. That’s the biggest thing.”
Like most of the youngsters, 4-year-old Landon Hacker of Schenectady didn’t play any baseball. That was probably for the best, since his fingers and face were covered in cheese from a plate of cheesy fries that matched the yellow in his Schenectady Little League T-shirt and baseball cap.
“He just gets excited because he’s got an older brother who plays baseball, so it’s exciting to be able to do what his big brother does,” said his mother, Heather.
Landon’s brother, Justin, 13, who started playing in the JC league when he was 6, graduated to Babe Ruth this year and also plays on the Mont Pleasant Middle School modified team.
“It was just fun,” the young outfielder said of his Little League experience. “I had fun doing it.”
For Will McLoughlin, the league is a chance to spend time with his nephew, Brendan, one of 10 youngsters on the T-ball team he coaches. On the diamond Saturday, McLoughlin smiled as the group of 4-, 5- and 6-year-olds ran and tumbled in the grass around him.
“I come from Rensselaer, so I make a little bit of a drive, almost 40 minutes here and 40 minutes back every time we have practice or games,” he said as 6-year-old Brendan punched him in the leg a few times before landing on his lap. “But it’s well worth it, man. I love my nephew, so we’ve been having a blast with it.”