Let’s play ball! Young athletes from Saint Athanasius School paraded through Bensonhurst with their families and two marching bands on April 15 as part of their annual celebration of the start of baseball season.
After mass at Saint Athanasius Church on 61st Street and Bay Parkway, 200 players aged 5 and up made their way to Friends’ Field, the school’s private baseball diamond, to the accompaniment of the Bishop Kearney and Midwood High School Bands.
The cavalcade — a tradition for nearly 60 years — is the product of weeks and weeks of organization from the baseball program’s directors.
“It’s four months of hard work!” laughed Joe Orlando, a veteran of the school’s baseball program, who now coaches 9- and 10-year-olds, including his own two sons. “We start registering kids in January, we organize getting the kids together for evaluations, set up the fundraising, and order the equipment and uniforms. It’s the same thing every year, putting things into motion.”
Orlando said the directors assess the kids’ skills early in the year during work-outs — not actual tryouts, he insists, since they try not to cut anyone — group them into teams based on their ages and particular talents, and meet with all the coaches every week from January till the parade to plan out the season. They also hold a free clinic on weekends for young children to learn the basics of the game.
The organizers are also in charge of getting local pols to turn out for the parade — this year it drew Councilman David Greenfield (D–Bensonhurst), Assemblyman Bill Colton (D–Bensonhurst), Assemblyman Peter Abbate (D–Dyker Heights), and state Sen. Marty Golden (R–Bay Ridge) — and make sure it gets off to an orderly start, said fellow director Bob McKenna.
“We put the parade together. We get dignitaries to show up, get everybody lined up right, get everybody moving,” said McKenna, another former Saint Athanasius player-turned-baseball-father-and-coach.
Saint Athanasius’s 300-plus players are split into “in-house teams” — named for major league ball clubs “to make the kids feel special,” said McKenna — that compete against one another, as well as more skilled “travel” teams for each age bracket that play against other Southern Brooklyn schools in the Kiwanis League. But on opening day, the players all march as one, said Orlando.
“I love seeing all the kids get together and march as an organization. The rest of the season, they’re competing against each other, but this is our day when we’re all on one team,” Orlando said.
McKenna said that the entire baseball program helps create a healthy community at Saint Athanasius.
“When they play with and against their friends, they learn to get along and work together,” he said.