It’s hard enough anywhere to run a Little League operation.
You’re always scrounging for money and volunteers. Parents second-guess the coach, convinced the guy hasn’t done enough to nurture their 5-year-old’s innate major league abilities. And in the age of video games and touch screens, baseball just doesn’t have the magic it used to.
And that’s on the good side of town.
Then there’s Central Little League, which is located at Sheehan-Basquil Park, the park across Maple Street from the JFK ice arena. Little League here has some extra challenges.
Some families struggle to pay the $25 registration fee.
Because kids sometimes go hungry, Central Little League makes sure it provides food free of charge to kids after a game. And parking lots and fields need a little extra care before the kids arrive.
“I don’t know who’s living in my dugout before I show up here,” said Ara Tamzarian, a fixture in Manchester Little League circles who turned his attention to Central Little League three years ago.
His latest challenge: protecting the league fields as the city draws up plans for a redo of the block-sized park.
Earlier this week, the city’s top parks official said the city will soon select a consultant to draw up plan for a $750,000 revitalization of the park. Parks chief Don Pinard reassured me that the redesign will include community input.
And he said that the league’s largest field, as well as the adjacent Ray Cross Pony League field, will survive any redesign. But that means that two other Central fields face a less certain future.
And Central Little League officials said they’ve seen three blueprints for the park. The most recent had pickleball courts and a parking lot where two fields are now.
That’s enough to pound a ground ball of anxiety through the parents who gathered for this week’s start of a two-week tournament that Central is hosting.
“I hope they don’t,” said Juliana Morel, a student at Manchester Community College, a few minutes before her 4-year-old hit a grounder into the outfield.
“They look forward to it. My son asks me every day, ‘Is there baseball today?’” she said.
“My daughter likes to play. It teaches teamwork and good exercise, and I think that’s important,” said Kevin Rondeau.
Rondeau said Little League was important socialization for his daughter because he pulled her out of Wilson School and home schooled her following a bullying incident.
“This is one of the most democratic things there is. They bring people together. They talk,” Rondeau said.
Amy Towne has visited the ballfield for years, seeing her kids grow up with Central Little League. Central is in a renaissance after Tamzarian and Yaritza Rodriguez, the league president, took over three years ago, she said.
They repaired and painted the club house, organized volunteers and forbade parents from dropping their kids off without sticking around for the game. And they helped to arrange a shrine for Rebecca Lafontaine and her daughter, Central player Julissa Clem, who died in a traffic accident in December, Towne said.
The team served 1,200 meals last year, Tamzarian said.
“It’s really about food and education at the end of the day,” he said. Tamzarian wears his dark hair in a ponytail and has a gray beard that bears a resemblance to the late Grateful Dead frontman Jerry Garcia.
He knows the names of the dozen or so Central kids who show up. He’s generous with encouragement, and enjoys sizing up his players for their potential to make All-Star rosters in coming years.
Tamzarian said Central has done a lot to draw people to the fields.
There’s a Saturday soccer clinic that is held in September. The fields have hosted clinics for field hockey and even sewing. And while other city Little Leagues end their season this month, he’ll be running clinics and games through July. This week Central started hosting a two-week tournament that is drawing Little League teams from as far away as Weare.
“We’re trying to show them it’s not a bad world down here,” he said.
Central lays claims to the oldest Little League program in the state, and City Hall is hosting an exhibit of old photos, including a 1954 Life magazine article about Little League in Manchester.
Pinard said Tamzarian has done a fantastic job revitalizing Central Little League. “He has a huge impact on the youth of the city,” Pinard said.
But he also said a revitalized park will help revitalize the entire neighborhood. Right now, a lot of the park is taken up by fenced-in fields, he said.
And Pinard notes that pickleball — the tennis-like game popular with middle-aged and elderly — has been a big success at Rock Rimmon.
It’s talk like that that makes Rodriguez bristle, as well as when Mayor Joyce Craig spoke to her about making the park a destination, she said.
“To me, it’s more about money than what we’re trying to do down here,” she said.
The redesign was only conceptual until this year, when the city started Phase I of the park redo. It tore up the city’s only skateboard park, replacing it with a hard-surface soccer field called a minipitch. A playground and parking lot will follow.
When I visited on Tuesday, a young man asked me what happened to the skate park. He thought, incorrectly, the city was building one across from Market Basket.
Pinard dismissed earlier blueprints as a “pretty picture” and said consultants will survey the community to see what it wants.
He said a skatepark will be under consideration. As will a splash pool, pickleball, and — even though Tamzarian said it isn’t needed — a parking lot.
Meanwhile, Little League struggles in the city. In the last three years, mergers have reduced the number of Little League organizations in the city from five to three. Tamzarian said Central could easily join one of the other two leagues, but that wouldn’t work for the kids.
“I know these kids couldn’t get to a distant location on a consistent basis,” Tamzarian said. “That’s the worry I have.”