For Fans Who Should Know Better

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Mudville: April 15, 2024 3:07 pm PDT

At its best, baseball is a grassroots game.

Kids from the neighborhood getting together to play ball.

Baseball needs to remember that, and The Story is here to remind MLB of that fact today.

His name is Victor Feld. He is 82, has been involved with the Greater New York Sandlot Athletic Alliance the last 42 years, the last 16 years as president and has played baseball his entire life. He has a wonderful eye for talent and does not need a radar gun to see how fast a pitcher is throwing. He can still run a good infield practice, too.

Through the years he has coached so many kids on not only baseball, but lessons they can take off the field and into life.

He is a gem. The GNYSAA is there to give kids the opportunity to play – boys and girls – and there is softball, too.

Players can continue their education by getting the chance to play at the high school and college level and the program has affected thousands of kids’ lives in a positive way.

The baseball light still burns bright for Victor Feld. His story and the GNYSAA must be known by more people.

“We are a grassroots for real organization,’’ Feld told BallNine. “Everything we do, my board, myself, my coaches, is free. We don’t charge a kid and we don’t pay anybody. We are a 501c. Whatever money we get we are judicious with it. If a company wants to help us out, give me a buzz and we will sit down and talk any time.’’

“Teaching the kids the game and about life is what it is still all about. MLB is big business. Sandlot Baseball is the business of getting priorities straight.”

Raising money is always a challenge for the GNYSAA.

Up until about six years ago, the Mets would give him some money yearly, $15,000, but that changed when the person he worked with at the Mets retired; someone new took over and the donations stopped.

“The Mets organization was good to us for 40 years until they went into a different direction,’’ Feld told me. “That money would help thousands of kids, but they cut that off with a 3 1/2 minute phone call to me and said goodbye.’’

Perhaps under new owner Steve Cohen the Mets can find a way to help again, just a bit. Cohen, I’m sure, is not even aware of the situation and his team’s longtime ties to the Greater New York Sandlot Athletic Alliance.

Hopefully that will change.

The relationship with the Mets was one that started way back with former major leaguer Tommy Holmes, the Boston Braves outfielder who hit .302 for his 11-year career. After his playing and managing career ended, the Brooklyn-born Holmes, who was signed by the Yankees and then was traded to the Boston Braves, started working for the Mets in 1973 as director of amateur baseball relations.

Holmes understood how important this organization was to the kids of New York City. He built a strong relationship with Feld and the GNYSAA and others like Mel Zitter of the Youth Service League. Holmes worked three decades for the Mets and the relationship continued with GNYSAA even after Holmes retired and another community relations director took over… until it all ended with that one phone call.

Feld was a CFO during his business career, so he knows all about the corporate life. Even he was stunned with the cold shoulder that came from the Mets. It would be great if the Yankees or MLB got on board, too, but Feld would love to see the relationship with the Mets start anew. More Mets fans is a good thing for the team.

A little money can go a long way and help the GNYSAA.

Victor Feld brings a love of the game to kids across the Greater New York area and in turn, the kids bring it into their everyday lives. (Photo courtesy Victor Feld)

Major leaguers have come through the program in one way or another, including Manny Ramirez and current major leaguers: Dellin Betances, Joe Panik and Adam Ottavino, just to name a few.

“We’ve got a pretty good history,’’ Feld said. “We’ve gotten over 900 kids to college, from JUCOs to NAIA to D-1s, D-2s, D-3s, any place we can get a kid an education.

“We’ve got a pretty good rapport with most college coaches, we don’t inflate kids’ ability,’’ Feld said. “We are pretty good evaluators here and they take our word. That’s the essence of the story.’’

Feld was recently inducted into the New York State Baseball Hall of Fame in Troy, N.Y. I was part of that class and his emotional speech about family, baseball and helping the kids of New York hit home to so many that night.

To be clear, anyone can help via their website: http://www.gnysaa.org/

The GNYSAA will be re-starting its annual dinner on Nov. 18 at Russo’s on the Bay in Howard Beach, cocktail hour beginning at 6:30. For ticket information, contact: sylvester_thomas@hotmail.com or call (347) 463-3602. The featured speaker will be John Morris, special assistant to the GM of the Cincinnati Reds. Morris played in the majors from 1982-93 and was the 10th overall pick of the 1982 draft. At Seton Hall, he played for legendary coach Mike Sheppard. He also coached in the Angels organization after his major league career ended, pushed in that direction by Joe Maddon.

Morris understands what the Sandlot game means to baseball, and he also heard Feld talk that night in Troy as he was inducted as well to the NY State Baseball HOF. He talked to Feld after the dinner and that is how he wound up being guest speaker. He appreciates the game from the Sandlot level on up.

Talk to the energetic Feld and you get an immediate education on the best coaches around his area, including Bob Fletcher of the Taconic Rangers travel team. “We’re very, very fortunate, we have got some good friends in the game and this is the first dinner we have had in two years because of Covid,’’ Feld said. “I still have to fill up some tables.’’

It’s a night of baseball and the stories will flow. Molloy College’s baseball coach Joe Fucarino with be presented the Jack Kaiser Coaching Excellence Award as well.

Photo courtesy Victor Feld

The Sandlot comes alive. Tickets to the dinner are $95 “and Russo really puts together a good meal,’’ Feld promised.

These kinds of events are what used to be known as the true Hot Stove League and scouts from a number of organizations will attend, including Billy Blitzer of the Cubs.

What I love best about this group is that it goes all the way back to 1945, the year Holmes hit .352 for the Boston Braves. GNYSAA hosts an annual All-Star Game at the home of the Brooklyn Cyclones.

Dozens of current and former major leaguers play in their All-Star Games and tournaments. In 2009 the GNYSAA reinstituted the Hearst Sandlot Classic as the Greater New York Sandlot Classic. It was originally set up by the owners of the New York Journal-American with newspapers from around the country sending players to New York to play the Journal-American All-Stars. Players like Al Kaline, Joe Torre, Ron Santo, Tommy Davis and Bill Skowron played in those games, so you can understand the history here.

This is some Sandlot Baseball. This is worth saving. In 2010, the 18-U team played a five-game series at Hofstra against the 18-U National Team, and in one game Francisco Lindor hit an absolute bomb for the National Team. “I can still see that ball flying through the air,’’ Feld said.

Teaching the kids the game and about life is what it is still all about. MLB is big business. Sandlot Baseball is the business of getting priorities straight. It’s a lot more than buying uniforms, gloves, caps and bats.

At one point in time Feld said, “before the scourge of travel baseball, we had over 2800 kids in here. We are down to 850 and we hope to hold onto them. Those are the bread and butter of my teams. It’s sad what has happened to baseball. For the kids who just want to play for play’s sake, the kids who want to learn how to play. We take great pride in teaching, instruction and development. That’s the backbone of our program. And my kids can play with anybody. If you see a kid that comes out of our organization that gets to a college or high school program, that kid is fundamentally sound, he knows what being a teammate means. And he knows how to be humble.

“And the kid knows what it means to do homework,’’ Feld said. “We monitor report cards twice a year and parents always say to us, ‘How do you get my kids to do this?’

“I say, ‘It’s very simple. It’s worked for 80 plus years. You want to play, you’ve got to show me the grades. No grades, no play.’ And it works like a charm.’’

Photo courtesy Vic Feld

That is a beautiful thing. Accountability.

“I have parents who come up to me and say, ‘Mr. Feld, your organization has saved my kid. He is now a better student in high school and I can see him going further. He’s nicer to his family. He treats people with respect.’

“This is the essence of baseball,’’ said Feld, who is quick to compliment everyone in the program and his board. “It’s not just a home run and a kid that can play the game at an elite level. This is life’s lessons on what you have to do to be successful in life.’’

Those are lessons that should never be forgotten.

Feld would love to see some of his former players who have made it to the major leagues come back on occasion and help with a clinic “or come to a dinner, come to a workout, come to a showcase, and have a Q & A with the kids,’’ he said.

He remembers a day at Shea Stadium when he put on two All-Star Games and Mel Zitter had Manny Ramirez come over to play for his 16-U team.

“We picked the best of the 14-year-olds and the best of the 16 years, two games, and we go at it,’’ Feld recalled. “So, Mel sends me – at 16 – Manny Ramirez. He calls me up and says, ‘Vic, I got a blue chipper for you.’ I say okay. We tell kids what time to be at the gate, rules to abide by, everything else. Act like a pro, clean up like a pro and go out and play like a pro. Look the part, no hats turned the wrong way, no flip flops.’’

“Manny had a time to be there. We all go through the gate, get ready to play and still no Manny Ramirez,’’ Feld said.

Manny finally shows up late.

Manny Ramirez at 18 years old, as he starred at George Washington High School in Upper Manhattan in 1991. (Photo: Sara Krulwich/The New York Times)

When he arrived, Feld did not start him. Manny was fuming.

“He finally gets in,’’ Feld said, “hits a fastball off a kid who can throw some cheese, the ball was off his right shoulder and he hit the 371 sign on a line drive. I turned to the kids in the dugout and the coaching staff and I said, ‘Guys you are looking at a major league hitter.’’’

Feld said the only player to play in the 14-year-old game and the 16-year-old game was Joe Panik. “He was that good,’’ he noted. “At 14 he was as fundamentally sound as any 16-year-old I have ever seen, he was able to swing the bat with them. He was an absolute gentleman.’’

Feld is deeply thankful for those inside the program who are so unselfish, for his college coaching connections and all the kids who want to play, that is where the love of the game shines through. He quickly mentions the late Joe Russo from St. John’s. “He never missed an appearance to talk to my kids. Never missed a clinic if I asked him,’’ Feld said. “Opened the door to St. John’s to help us. He was rock solid. He was a mentor to me. John Russo at Hofstra was the same for us. Dom Scala was great at Adelphi.

“We are doing our best and we have a more condensed program and we don’t give out as many freebies as we used to,’’ Feld said. “We ask for donations wherever we can and when we have to, my board, we all open up the pocketbook and do what we got to do.’’

And that is done for the love of the game. The Sandlot game.

Feld then said it beautifully.

“Sandlot ball is the essence of who we are, where you strap on a uniform, put on an old ruddy pair of spikes, you grab your bat and the glove that you had for 10 years and you play down at the Parade Grounds and in the South Bronx and you go play baseball as a kid,’’ Feld said. “And that should never be lost … That should never be lost.’’

No it shouldn’t.

“The kids with the local program like the travel teams, the Bonnies, Youth Services, etc. you travel more, you play more,’’ he said of the GNYSAA. Other than that, we have local leagues. In Queens there is HBQVB, which has been a tremendous friend to us and really a working partner. They got seven fields up there. We run tournaments up there. We do things with them together. We do showcases there; we do clinics there. That is a great organization. We play in Brooklyn at the Parade Grounds. Up in the Bronx you got Castle Hill and other programs throughout the borough of the Bronx. These kids play at least 30-40 games a year, the travel teams play more. This year we had something special for the elite kids with Shaun Manning of Next Level Baseball.’’

This past August they had the first annual Mike Leiderman Cup at SUNY Maritime College that raised $5,000 in the fight against ALS. The best 20 of Long Island vs the best 20 of New York City,’’ Feld said of the game that was promoted as: From Manhattan to Montauk.

“We had workouts for six weeks. Bobby Fletcher coached that team for us. We won 3-1, it was a great game. These are the things that we do that nobody knows about; nobody has an idea of how it gets done but we get it done. And there are nights I put my head on the pillow and say, ‘How did we get it done?’’’

Feld draws from all of New York City. “If you want to play baseball, we’ll get you on a team,’’ he said.

At GNYSAA, they get it done.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

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