According to littleleague.org, there are more than 1 million adult volunteers in every state in the United States, and more than 80 other countries that help run local Little Leagues. The success of those local youth baseball and softball leagues are largely dependent on the effort and the care of the parents of the children who play in them.
Over the past five years, East End Little League—which serves the East Quogue, Quogue, Westhampton, Westhampton Beach, Remsenburg and Speonk hamlets—has found a resurgence in the number of interested young athletes, in large part due to the volunteerism and effort put forth by a group of parents led by its president, Ryan Fay.
In that time span, Fay says the league has become more financially stable than ever, participation has ballooned to nearly 300 players, and, again, thanks to the volunteerism of a group of parents, the league has made vast improvements to its lone home field, Hampton West Park in Westhampton, located at the end of Stewart Avenue just down the road from the Francis S. Gabreski Air National Guard Base.
More so over the past two years, the league has raised funds by itself to install wind screens on the fence surrounding the field, installed a new manual scoreboard, upgraded all of the league’s equipment, purchased brand new pitching machines and, just this past Sunday, finished installing a brand new batting cage.
Fay said getting the cages was a project spearheaded by Dave Celi, the league’s softball director, who also owns Celi Electric, right around the corner from the field.
“It was our dream to get to this point, and Dave, with his company and tools, he just took the bus and started driving,” he said. “Our league has really come along the last five years, and it’s really from these guys who have been busting their butts, taking the time out of their weekends, and I just wanted community members and Southampton Town to know how much hard work they put in to all of this.”
Celi said he used his expertise as a full service electrical contractor to good use when installing the batting cages, but that Sean Brand and James Miller were by his side for the entire duration of the build—which took just about every weekend since the beginning of the winter to complete.
Celi also had the necessary heavy machinery to help move things along smoothly, but the league had plenty of donations from a number of other local companies and individuals. Celi said Fay, Bill Dawson, Bryan Bookamer, Mike Kessler and Dave Passarella were a few of the names he wanted to mention in helping out on the project.
John Tintle of East Coast Mines donated the needed aggregate, Nicolock Paving Stones donated most of the blocks that created a small wall on the outside of the cage, LandTek provided the FieldTurf for the cage at what Celi said was a significantly reduced rate, and Shane Smith at Speonk Lumber donated all of the wood and much of the mortar and concrete needed for the project.
“When we joined [East End Little League], my wife and I would speak about it all the time, that the field could really use some improvements, and we felt terrible that no one had been able to help to get it done,” he added. “We had a great bunch of people who were willing to dedicate a lot of their time, they just needed someone that had the capability to bring in the right machinery and tools, and I knew that was something that I could help with. So we approached Southampton Town, we went through the whole submittal process, the design process. I’m hoping this leads to bigger and better things.”
Fay termed East End as a bit of a “nomad league,” because it operates out of more than one location. While Hampton West Park, which is owned by the Town of Southampton, is considered its home location, the league also uses fields at the various schools within its borders. What Fay and Celi would like to see one day is all of the league’s games, which could be 12 or 13 in one day, taking place at one central location. And Celi would like to see an indoor space built for children during the winter months, similar to SYS in North Sea.
“We don’t have the appropriate number of fields in the area, and we’re hoping this shows the town that we’re serious about this and hope that it elicits some response from them,” Celi said. “I feel like the town doesn’t do much for kids in the winter when they’re sedentary and doesn’t have enough in the area to keep them active.”
Fay and other league officials met with Town Councilwoman Christine Scalera to go over possible new locations for the town to create a park similar to Red Creek Park in Hampton Bays, but farther west in the town. Southampton Town Parks and Recreation Director Kristen Doulos said she identified a few possible locations, but didn’t want to dive deeper into specifics since everything is very preliminary.
“It would be a fairly large capital project to build just one field, and then, at the very least, you need site lighting, a parking lot, restrooms, the field itself, fencing, dugouts, scoreboards … it’s something that would cost several million dollars that isn’t in this year’s budget. And then, of course, we’ve got quite a few projects on our plate right now,” she explained.
Celi said that the town has been responsive in talks, but he wasn’t confident that anything was going to happen in the near future.
“It just doesn’t seem like there is much of an appetite there for the town, and that needs to change,” he said. “There needs to be something out here for people who live here year round to exist in the summer. Many of us see the beach two, three times a year, and there’s nothing to help our kids keep busy—and that’s not acceptable.”
But, regardless, as long as the same group of volunteers are in East End Little League, they’ll continue to make sure everything goes smoothly. Next up on the docket for the league, Fay said, is purchasing as big a shed as it can that could possibly hold a press box so the player’s names can be announced.
“The parents, we’re essentially the driving force behind East End Little League, and I would do it every day for the kids,” Celi said. “It was almost like it wasn’t even work, it was just a feel-good project and it was rewarding in itself.”