07/09/08 12:12 PM ET
A field fit for the 'Goose'
Gossage on hand to unveil renovated diamond in the Bronx
By Willie Bans / MLB.com
So when the former nine-time All-Star, World Series champion, and soon-to-be Hall of Famer spoke at Castle Hill Field in the Bronx on Wednesday to introduce the latest renovated field as part of the Major League Baseball-supported Little League Baseball Urban Initiative, Gossage reached way back, before the mustache, the blazing fastball and 310 saves that made him famous.
"Some of my greatest memories are when I was a Little Leaguer, and they rival those memories I have being a big league player," Gossage told players from each of the Castle Hill Little League's 32 teams.
Many Castle Hill Little Leaguers will remember the occasion, the first of the weeklong All-Star Game events, and it happened in the same borough that houses Yankee Stadium, which also happens to be the site of the Midsummer Classic.
The dedication ceremony was hosted by MLB in conjunction with Bank of America, the official bank of MLB.
Gossage, flanked by former Yankees Mickey Rivers and Roy White, helped unveil the new park, which underwent $200,000 worth of renovation and looked immaculate. Gossage said the ballparks in his hometown of Colorado Spring, Colo., weren't as nice as Castle Hill's.
"This is an awesome ballpark for the kids," Gossage said, adding, "I just can't say enough about what my Little League days meant to me."
The renovation began June 9 and included removing faulty sprinklers and holes on the field.
"One time, we had a truck that was doing some work and you can't see it now, but the tractor trailer got stuck and made a big [mess] and ripped out a huge piece of grass," said Rene Aponte, who coaches several teams in the league and serves on its board of directors.
The new grass and infield dirt is as thick and pretty as the ones in Major League fields. So nice, in fact, that on Tuesday, when some players and their parents went to the field to make final preparations, they took off their shoes.
Aponte's 12-year-old son, Ryan, was one of those kids, and on Wednesday, he took the mound during the first game played on the new field.
"It like I was walking on a rug, a pillow, a bed," Ryan said. It was his Dugout Sporting Goods team against the Wendy's club, and Ryan was the starting pitcher. The first batter struck out swinging, the first strikeout for him and the field.
"It feels like when I watch it on TV, the Little League World Series, how beautiful the field is," he said. "This is just a little piece of a memory that I'll save for the longest time. The first team that got to play on a brand new field and I got to pitch."
Surveying the field, Ryan said he was looking forward to next year, when he'd jump a division and be able to play on a bigger baseball diamond across from the one his team was playing on.
"I'm waiting to go up there and play on it," he said, his eyes fixed on a spot past the opposing team's center fielder. "It's perfect."
Willie Bans is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.