Suffolk cops, Hispanic Society help empower kids
'Heads up," Gerard Frielingsdorf called out as a ball flew back and over the fence at one of the North Patchogue Medford Youth Athletic Club's eight baseball fields.
On the field, a group of young players continued their game. Off the field, Frielingsdorf, president of the Suffolk County Police Department's Hispanic Society, talked about the power of baseball to shape kids, especially young kids, into more than just good players.
On this night, the Hispanic Society is doing something new. It's letting local baseball players - boys and girls, ages 5 through 17 - know that the society's 50 probationary police officers, police officers and retired officers of Hispanic descent are here to help.
That's no small thing in the communities of Patchogue and Medford, which over the past year have watched seven local teenagers plead guilty or be convicted in the slaying of Ecuadorean immigrant Marcelo Lucero.
"This is a good community and a great place to live," said Kevin Allen, the athletic club's executive director, who stood with a group of players and Hispanic Society members holding aloft a sign that will hang on the fence of the facility's major field. "All in all, it's good," he said, "and the bad is a small minority."
Still, how does a community move on after such trauma?
Officers in the Hispanic Society believe they can help by becoming more visible. To that end, the society raised enough money to become a league sponsor. "We'd talked about sponsoring a team," said society member Richard Dougherty, whose mother is of Puerto Rican descent. "Then, we thought about doing something that would have a bigger reach."
After talking to league officials, the society decided to help with the league's fields. Now, there is a sign hanging from the main field's fence. It carries the society's crest: a ship flying the flag of Spain, sailing on blue seas away from a castle. It's emblazoned with the society's motto: "Born of a Proud Heritage. Proteger la Justica y Servir Nuestra Communidad," which translates, roughly, to the police motto: "To protect and serve our community."
The society, mostly dormant until two years ago, has worked to extend its activities beyond Brentwood, where it was most active, to areas like Huntington and Patchogue.
On Friday, Insp. Aristides Mojica, commanding officer of the Fifth Precinct serving Patchogue, stood with the group in East Patchogue. Mojica was a society charter member in 1986. "I'm here to show support to the community," he said.
The athletic club has 480 members, whose families and supporters fill the parking lot and fields to capacity on weekends, the busiest playing days. Allen said that about 20 percent of the club's players are Latino, African-American or other minorities.
"We want to try to bridge the gap and ease the tension that was created because of what happened [in the Lucero case]," said Dougherty.
"We want to let the kids, all the kids, know that we are there," said Frielingsdorf, who is of German and Puerto Rican descent. "If the kids get to know us, the parents will feel more comfortable with us, too."
Behind him, the young baseball players played on.
It was a beautiful evening for a game.