A league of their own: Girls softball a huge hit
BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | They started out with stretching, then moved on to wind sprints, stampeding back and forth across the artificial turf like a herd of wild gazelles. Next, they broke up into various stations, hitting, fielding, throwing at red balloons on a fence. Finally, there were full-speed scrimmages.
Admittedly, some of the batters needed directions on which way to run to first base, and the running in the scrimmage was way ahead of the fielding.
But this is where it all begins. It was a typical Saturday morning practice for the Greenwich Village Little League girls softball T-ball program.
The pint-sized players — 50 in all — were ages 4 to 7 and they represent the future of G.V.L.L. girls softball, which has been booming. Including girls up to age 14, softball has tripled in size in recent years, and now has 135 players and nine teams.
“If you build it, they will come. Because of these guys’ coaching, we have really built the program,” said Carin Ehrenberg, as she looked out contentedly over the sun-splashed scene of colorful jerseys and caps in motion at Chelsea Waterside Park, on W. 23rd St.
“It’s a league of their own — like the movie — a division of their own,” she said, referring to the T-balling tykes.
The program even has a former Olympic softball pitcher, Elizabeth Sanchez, to help coach the budding ball players — and, when they’re old enough, show them the secrets of softball’s most fearsome weapon — the windmill windup.
Ehrenberg is the incoming president of G.V.L.L., taking over from John Economou, who ably led the league the past two years. Boosting the girls softball program was one of his top priorities.
By “these guys,” Ehrenberg was referring, first and foremost, to Steve White, the mastermind and leader of the softball program.
This will be the first year G.V.L.L. will field a girls ages-10-to-12 softball team for the Little League tournament in Williamsport.
“The only team around here that had a tournament team was Downtown Little League,” White noted.
On the East Side, the Lower East Side Lady Furies, a new startup team, are also making travel plans for Williamsport.
Beyond the sheer fun of it, playing softball is good for girls’ performance in school, and beyond.
“Studies show girls who participate in sports statistically do better in school, will get better jobs, make more money,” noted White, an attorney who lives in the Village.
“It builds self-esteem and self-confidence,” added Ehrenberg, a psychologist and Chelsea resident.
At the same time, Ehrenberg noted, as girls and boys get older, they start to self-segregate a bit, and the girls generally feel comfortable doing their own thing and playing softball while the boys stick to hardball. All girls do have the option of playing co-ed baseball.
Like a farm team for the big leagues, G.V.L.L. is now feeding players to top local school programs. The starting catchers for both the Stuyvesant and Poly Prep girls softball teams honed their skills in G.V.L.L.
And, in a point of pride for G.V.L.L., the L.R.E.I. softball team, featuring several former players from the program, won its league championship.
One might think that, along with these kind of results, comes a pressure-cooker environment, no doubt, with screaming, neck-vein-popping Little League coaches and parents. Yet, it’s just the opposite.
“We don’t have coaches that bellow at the girls,” White stated.
The league is a member of the Positive Coaching Alliance, which stresses the importance of character building.
G.V.L.L. focuses on positive reinforcement — which can involve food rewards.
“Someone learns to hit the cutoff man, and we go to Spunto Pizza to celebrate that someone ‘got it’ to hit the cutoff man,” White explained.
Also always key, Ehrenberg added, is the snack the girls enjoy halfway through each session.
They don’t rush things at G.V.L.L., either. The girls were using a 9-inch, hardball-size, squishy ball. By the end of the season, they will have worked up to an 11-inch soft softball.
Ehrenberg added that the league’s feel-good vibe extends to the whole family.
“Volunteer organizations allow parents to get involved in their community in a whole new way,” she said. “That’s one of the most important things about G.V.L.L. — the friendship. It’s building a league and building community.”
Also, it’s just an unavoidable fact that every G.V.L.L. president ends up staying deeply involved with the league for at least 10 years, she added. It’s not a rule, but it just happens.
On the other hand, compared to G.V.L.L., Downtown Little League, for one, has a reputation of being a bit, well, intense, according to Village coaches and players.
LiLi, 14, White’s daughter, who was helping out the young players in return for community-service school credits, vouched that there is definitely a G.V.L.L. difference.
“I played for the Cowgirls about three years,” she said. “It was really fun. G.V.L.L. is more friendly, it’s more recreational. I feel like, G.V.L.L., you make more friends. Everyone gets to bat, and the players get to try different positions.”
Sanchez told LiLi, one of her prized former pupils, to show her stuff, and, as dad squatted down and caught her, she flung in a flurry of fancy pitches.
“Go modified!” Sanchez called out, as Lili whipped one in without a full roundhouse windup.
“Go windmill!” she called, and the young pitcher really let it fly.
As she watched LiLi’s mechanics, Sanchez paused to flash to The Villager the Dominican Hall of Fame ring on her finger. Not even the great Pedro Martinez is in the D.R. Hall yet because he’s not 45, the minimum age, she noted.
“He’s got the numbers, but not the years,” she said.
Sanchez has pitched in not one but two Olympics, and when she picked up the ball after LiLi to show her own stuff, one could immediately see why. As LiLi caught, Sanchez unleashed a barrage of screwballs and curveballs — the pitches breaking wildly by several feet up and to the right and left — a changeup, a knuckleball, a drop. You name it, she throws it.
Sanchez was brought in to teach the girls, once they’re old enough, to take their game to the next level with the windmill, and blow away the competition.
But the league is already making great strides — they’re just doing it the Greenwich Village way.