Travel team players are blazing their own path

The Villagers play intense baseball, but also keep it fun.   Photos by Jack Kleinman

The Villagers play intense baseball, but also keep it fun. Photos by Jack Kleinman

BY JOHN ECONOMOU  |  On a sunny and crisp early Saturday morning, a travel team made up of 10- and 11-year-olds from the Greenwich Village Little League laced up their cleats to play baseball. The feeling of the coming winter in the air and the scent of morning dew on the grass and the dirt field unmistakably let you know that this is October baseball.

As the players shake the sleep off and you start to hear the chatter and laughter on the field during warm-ups, you just know that it’s going to be a fun day.

After five weekends of good doubleheader baseball in the Westchester Baseball Association, the Villagers have a record of 9 wins and 1 loss to show for their efforts. Our team is lucky to be coached by Rob Goergen, a G.V.L.L. newcomer manager.

With the help of an experienced group of coaches — John Economou, Clay Benchley, Josh Levine and Harold Meltzer — the goal has been to instill the fundamentals of baseball into this terrific squad of ballplayers while never forgetting to keep the atmosphere positive and fun.

With so much emphasis in baseball put on slugging percentages and power hitting these days, it has been refreshing to see that the art of playing true baseball has not been lost on this team. All you need to do is watch any of the Villagers’ games on any given Saturday to see that “small ball” is not only alive and well but effective and fun to watch and play.

Fundamental baseball is at the core of G.V.L.L.’s philosophy and is what we try to pass along. These boys have been having a blast playing that way, and the results so far speak for themselves.

Nathan Economou, the Villagers’ second baseman, ripping a hit.

Nathan Economou, the Villagers’ second baseman, ripping a hit.

Defensively, this team has learned where to position themselves, where to throw the ball depending on the scenario, and sometimes when to hold onto the ball and not throw it away. Of course, staying in front of the ball and keeping your glove down is paramount.

We’ve seen our players execute perfect rundowns, incredible backhanded fielding plays, double plays and razor-sharp throw-outs.  Of course, it doesn’t hurt when all the players on the team know how to play multiple positions really well, including the pitcher and catcher.

As their coach, I can’t tell you how proud and happy I am when I hear these boys shouting, “Cut two!” or “Cut three!” or “Two outs, play is to first!”

Offensively, our players have exercised patience at the plate but have been aggressive when they should be. They hit with the purpose of getting on base and then advancing runners into scoring position. There is no emphasis on hitting home runs or slugging the ball. In fact, RBI’s and sacrifice RBI’s are commonplace. Not that any one of our players can’t hit the ball far. It’s just that the emphasis is not to slug away but to play baseball, “real baseball.”

Once they get on base, watch out, because our base running has been inspiring and effective. These players have learned when to steal to avoid being the victims of a double play and when to tag up on a fly ball.

If that weren’t enough, these kids’ hearts and spirits are second to none. We’ve come back from behind in several games, even when you would think it wasn’t possible. This group just never gives up. They play with a level of intensity you expect to see from a competitive team, but never at the sacrifice of having fun. To hear them cracking jokes to each other and lifting each other up simply puts a smile on your face.

As we head into the last weekend of regular play before the playoffs, the boys are not sure what to expect. However, two things are for certain: “Real baseball” will be played and fun will be had.

Go Villagers!

Economou is a former president of G.V.L.L. (2012-14), a longtime league board member and coach, and is currently the head coach of the Villagers 10-11U travel team

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