All-star teams of New Hyde Park Little League boys baseball and girls softball players ranging from nine to 13 years old took their positions with visible enthusiasm at Nuzzi Field last Saturday for the league’s sixth annual All-Star Saturday event.
Tom Pellegrino, president of the New Hyde Park Little League, said the 120 all-stars on the eight teams competing were selected from nearly 500 local boys and girls playing in the leagues this year. That included boys majors and minors baseball all-stars and girls majors and minors softball squads.
“It’s a great feeling. It’s a lot of work,” Pellegrino said.
He credited New Hyde Park Little League board members Will Hickey and Joseph Fornatero with organizing the event.
“It’s a team effort. It’s teaching them the right thing,” Hickey said.
Throwback T-shirts were distributed to fans and distinguished guests and girls masquerading as tiger mascots took the field between innings to the accompaniment of “Cotton-Eyed Joe.”
‘It’s a carnival atmosphere,” Hickey said.
Hickey provided introductions for inductees to the New Hyde Park Little League Hall of Fame and recounted the courageous story of a local New Hyde Park hero who was given a special plaque with new Hall of Fame inductees prior to the Boys Majors afternoon game.
New York City Police Detective Kevin Brennan, who survived a gunshot wound to head, drew enthusiastic applause as he was introduced to receive the plaque from Pellegrino.
“It’s a very nice honor. Anything you can with kids is a nice thing,” Brennan said, adding, “I’m a lucky man.”
New Hyde Park Little League Vice President Vinnie Gunert was inducted for his long service. Reid Sakowich accepted plaques on behalf of Sakowich Plumbing and the Inn at New Hyde Park, his businesses that were inducted as sponsors at the event.
“It’s a great organization. It’s thrilling to see their excited faces,” Sakowich said of the little leaguers.
Members of the 2008 New York State Girls Seniors Championship softball team, the first local amateur team to win a state championship, were also inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“It’s pretty nice. I feel like it was the other day. It was awesome,” said Rosa Russi, who was a catcher on that team.
She said she and most of the members of that team are still playing together on a summer college team.
The final special guest of the day was Hofstra University softball star Olivia Galati, the pitcher who compiled a 34-7 record while leading her team to its first super regional in NCAA Division I competition. The first team All American was mobbed by the young girls softball all-stars seeking her autograph before they took the field for the day’s final game.
She recalled her younger years when women like Jenny Finch, the former star pitcher for the University of Arizona, were her role models. She said the reaction of the young players was “humbling.”
“You don’t realize that you’re affecting what they’re doing. It’s great to be a role model for these girls,” Galati said.
The day began with the color guard from G. and E. Linder VFW Post 8031, introduced by Hickey, taking the field last Saturday morning for the playing of the national anthem at New Hyde Park Little League All-Star day.
VFW Post Commander Edward Smolenski directed the detail of five veterans, who are all members of the New Hyde Park Little League’s Hall of Fame.
“We’re honored to be here. I’m a native son. It’s good to see this going on,” Smolenski said. “We didn’t have this when I was growing up.”
Smolenski joined the Navy Air Corps in 1943 and served in Italy and France during World War II.
“I enlisted. You’d feel bad if you couldn’t get into the service,” he recalled.
Another World War II veteran, Stanley Sichel, threw out the first pitch preceding the Boys Minors 9- and 10-year-olds all-star contest. Sichel, 95, was a B-29 pilot who flew 18 combat missions over Japan during the war, and he was happy to be out on the pitcher’s mound last Saturday.
“This is great, to be here with them,” Sichel said.
Mario Obertis, a U.S. Air Force veteran who served in Germany during the Korean War, said it was good for the young ballplayers to meet men who had served in the armed forces.
“I think it was great. I think it’s a good thing for the little leaguers know about what preceded them, that people went out to defend our freedom,” he said.
William Hothan, who served in the U.S. Army in Germany during the Korean conflict, said, “It’s an honor to be here.”
The little league inducted Korean War fighter pilot and Boston Red Sox legend Ted Williams into its Hall of Fame during the morning ceremony.