In modern America, baseball is a place where age, race and background don’t matter. Only skill. And many of us have childhood memories of stepping up to the plate and getting that first hit. Well, we want to introduce you to one unique little league in Upper Manhattan that’s changing the game in part because they tell their players to value the name on the back of their jersey more important than the emblem on the front.
“Bases loaded!" kids chanted from the dugout.
The heart and soul of America’s pastime is showcased best, here in Washington Heights.
"I always do my best to do everything that I can,” Shanell Duran, a nine-year-old little league player, said.
“When I play, I get the courage to play harder and harder,” Alexander Acosta, another nine-year-old, said.
These boys and girls take the field Friday nights, indulging in the game they love.
“I like about baseball that I can play with my friends, work as a team and win” Sebastian Bautista, a 10-year-old, smiled.
An opportunity they get through the Michael Buczek Little League named in honor of an NYPD officer killed in the line of duty.
“The night they were killed, October 18, 1988, it was a tragic night," John Moynihan remembered. "We lost two police officers in two separate incidents, in the same night and that was the first time that happened in the history of the NYPD.”
He was 24 years old and instead of burying themselves in sadness, the Buczek family rallied to make something positive come out of their tragedy.
In other words, they chose to love, not hate.
“[To] give something back to the community and not forget where their son was killed," Moynihan explained. "That was really a great labor of love to keep their son’s name alive.”
John Moynihan, a Sergeant in the Joint Terrorism Task Force, who worked alongside Buczek in 1988 and later helped found the league, has been involved since day one, running most of the league, and even pitching during games.
“I even have my own son now, he’s eight years old and he plays here on a team, so I really enjoy that,” he smiled.
From the parents on the sideline to the volunteers in the dugout, this has become a staple in the neighborhood.
“It’s a fun thing that you get to do with other people and you learn about each other and what you have to improve on,” Acosta said.
And while their jerseys say the Dodgers, these nine-and 10-year-olds know they’re playing for much more.
“I play for Michael Williams,” Shanell said.
Michael Williams, a police officer from the 47th precinct passed away on September 21, 2014 after a police van carrying him and eight others crashed in the Bronx.
“Our son was 25 when he passed," Michael Williams Sr. said. "It brings back the memories of when we watch him play and that was a lot of fun.”
Michael and Joann, lost their only son. Now, they drive an hour and half each way to support the kids who wear his name on their backs.
“It’s hard to put into words what we get out of it," Michael Sr. said. "Peace for a couple hours, you forget about everything else,” Joann added.
“They do so much for the kids, they come to all the games," Moynihan said. "They gave out batting gloves to the kids."
After 9/11, the League decided to name each team after fallen NYPD officers.
Their mission is to continue building a positive relationship between cops and the community.
“I know my son would have loved this,” Joann smiled. "He used to get mad to think that the kids didn’t like him because he was a cop.”
“I really do believe you die twice in life, and the second time is when somebody says your name for the last time," Moynihan explained. "So we try to keep the heroes' names alive and through that we try to let the community see the police are people too."
And it’s working.
“The cops are here to protect our safety,” Shanell said.
“They help us and they’re good in the city” Daniell Rodriguez, a 10-year-old player, added.
“Our goal is to build major league citizens one game at a time,” Moynihan said. "I believe this is the greatest community, cop relationship in the whole city, if not the country to be honest with you. We have have over 30 kids who used to play here, came back and became NYPD police officers."
“28 years, it’s hard to believe they’ve been doing it this long," Michael Sr. said. "But they’re truly dedicated and they’re really giving the kids an alternative to the street corner.”
Win or lose, the memory and legacy of cops, like Michael Williams and Michael Buczek, weigh heavy on these little kids’ big hearts.
"I play for them, [because] they fought for us," Acosta smiled. "I feel proud."
The League has its season championships next weekend (June 24-26) at the Police Officer Michael Buczek Little League Field in Washington Heights.
Produced by: Kim Pestalozzi