By Amy Durning
It’s hot out—June in NYC and already in the high 90’s. Fretting about whether I’ve properly applied sunscreen to my child, I’m sitting amongst a group of sweaty spectators on cement bleachers under the only shady patch in sight at Greenwich Village’s JJ Walker Field. We’ve congregated to watch the AAA division GVLL playoff game between the Athletics and the Marlins. The winner will move on to the Championship. Yelling out reminders to drink water, clutching boxes of donuts to be devoured after the game by winners and losers alike, the tension in the stands is real. But here’s the kicker, my kid Milo, he’s not on the Athletics, or the Marlins—in fact he doesn’t even play in the AAA division—but he is sitting right next to me cheering on the catcher and the shortstop on the Athletics, while rooting on the entirety of the Marlins batting line up—these are his new friends.
Milo and I yell for both teams to succeed and cringe when either team errors. He shouts encouragement to the Marlin’s team manager, his friend Jack’s mom. This Spring my son committed to learning a sport, a way to expend energy and pass time before dinner, and though he has become an accomplished student of America’s Pastime, my family experienced so much more.
Our introduction to GVLL began with Summer Ball 2021 pick up games for whomever shows up to Pier 40 on Tuesday and Wednesday nights roughly 5:30 to…until it gets dark. Loose “games,” with different aged kids of various skill level— coach pitch, as the sun sinks over the river, the kids motivate each other (and sometimes heckle lightheartedly), no pressure, barely keeping score, just seeing how many times they could make it up to bat.
Then, we played 2021 GVLL Fall Ball. Low-key pick up games/clinics on weekends, or you can try out for one of the Fall Travel teams, coached by professional coaches that have practice, organized games, and legit uniforms. By January, optional weekend winter workouts start at the P3 Indoor baseball facility at Pier 40 for anyone who signs up for Spring ball (no extra charge) until finally you’re assigned a team and the Little League season starts in April.
We were lucky/crazy/naïve enough to sign up to play on a GVLL Spring travel team, as well as on a Minors division recreation team. Milo was both an “Ace” and a “Blue Jay” and he loved both in equal measure. Depending on what division your child falls into, or commitment your family wants to make—you could practice/play from two to four times a week. There are also optional free skills clinics (batting, catching, pitching) all season at P3 as part of the program. Your child could be playing/practicing baseball literally five-six days a week, or simply two days a week.
My son has played soccer, tennis, gymnastics and more over the years, I have never experienced this kind of flexibility within an organization—it is truly awesome and character building to be able to let your child’s appetite dictate their commitment. As Milo realized he could spend more and more time playing baseball – he took advantage of all the opportunities he could—and without my realizing it, my son, at 8 years old, had built a community filled with the kids who were learning alongside him, the coaches and teenagers who instructed him, and the parents and siblings who populated the sidelines.
When we finally began playing games this April, amazingly my husband and I were just along for the ride, Milo seemed to know everyone on his travel team—which just left us to hang with the parents while he was busy doing his thing, after those early introductions, and then the inevitable awkward reintroductions, I feel confident to say that I now count those families as friends. He approached his Minors team confident and excited to play with new kids and with the unfamiliar parent coaches. He knew kids on the other Minors teams and loved battling them from the pitching mound and the batters box.
The catchment for GVLL runs from Canal Street to W59th Street, the Hudson River to Broadway/ Bowery. Your child may reside, or attend school, within those boundaries. From long days of double headers alongside families that we never would have otherwise crossed paths with, to volunteering for picture day and meeting the T Ballers coming up, and the Seniors moving on, GVLL is a big, diverse, lovely community connected around the notion that recreational sport—learning to win and lose, to try, and to develop one’s skills—is a fun and worthwhile pursuit for children. I’ve met families from almost every school in Manhattan who live in varied neighborhoods, with a multitude of viewpoints our shared NYC experience. I’ve also met a family who lives a block away from me, we enjoy commiserating about our neighborhood’s current events, and we now share pick up/drop off duties when possible. Suddenly, the big city feels a bit more small town.
From Opening Day, to league outings to the Brooklyn Cyclones, impromptu after game pizza parties, and a Mother’s Day pot luck brunch just outside the third base line, our GVLL experience was a bright and meaningful addition to our lives—most importantly for my son who desperately needed more social practice, outlets, and opportunities after the isolation of COVID, and also in response to friends and classmates who relocated during that tumultuous time.
As the season wore on, I’ve enjoyed brainstorming ways I can be of service to this large volunteer organization. It feels good to invest in a community that has invested in my child—from the coaches who teach him, to parent team managers who “call him up” when other players are ill, to caretakers who watch him when I am late to pick up. It truly takes a village, no pun intended.
And now, I find myself cheering on an awesome, talented cohort of kind, unique, wonderful children—Mikey, Mason, Leo, Jack among many others—whom I have only known for a few months, making time in our family’s schedule for their games, as well as my child’s own. I never could’ve guessed that would happen. Mostly, I love that my son wants to prioritize supporting his friends—no matter how sticky hot, or rainy it might be. I truly couldn’t have asked GVLL to teach him anything more valuable.
The Marlins won by the way. But after the game—both teams, siblings, and spectators alike enjoyed a rousing game of Pickle.