Island Park Little Leaguer Billy Gelish, 9, jammed his fist into a brand new baseball glove at Shell Creek Park on Wednesday.
He was one of 10 little leaguers to test out the baseball and softball equipment Philadelphia nonprofit Pitch In For Baseball delivered to replace what was lost after superstorm Sandy.
Kelly Gelish, 44, watched her children's eyes light up for the first time since their ranch on Parente Lane in Island Park was submerged in 3 feet of water. The house is still unlivable and the family still displaced.
"The first thing my son said after the storm was, 'Is my baseball stuff OK?,'" she said. "My kids were so excited to hear we were getting new equipment, especially my son. We had just bought him a new helmet and bat that he only used once and those were ruined in the flood."
David Rhode, executive director and founder of Pitch In For Baseball, said the nonprofit has collected and distributed new and gently-used baseball and softball equipment to communities in need since 2005.
The nonprofit is delivering nearly $150,000 worth of equipment to Long Island and New Jersey communities through March. On Wednesday, the organization dropped off bats, uniforms, bases, batting tees, balls and helmets to the Island Park Little League, enough to satisfy all the players’ needs.
"In a situation like this, we're giving kids a sense of hope that their lives will return back to normal," said Rhode, 48, of Harleysville, Pa. "Many of these families are still displaced after the storm and we want to help in any way we can. We want to equip these kids with what they need to get back out on the field in the spring and play ball."
The nonprofit made its first stop in Oceanside Wednesday afternoon and plans to continue to distribute much needed equipment over the next couple weeks to North Merrick, Rockaway and East Rockaway, as well as Bay Shore and Bayonne in New Jersey.
Andrew Barwicki, president of the Island Park Little League, pointed out the 5-foot watermark on the league's shed, which once housed all of its equipment, but is now irreparable.
"We have 220 little leaguers and we lost everything," said Barwicki, 45, of Island Park. "The season starts on April 5 and a lot of families still aren't back in their homes. This donation allows us to not only have a season, but also not put even more of a financial burden of replacing equipment on our residents who are already dealing with so much."
The first floor of Barwicki's home took on 4 inches of water, while his basement was completely submerged in water. Thankfully, he said, his sons Jaden, 11, and Drew, 8, who both play in the league, now have something to look forward to.
Another Little League parent, John Egan, 43, of Island Park, lost the first floor of his two-family house to flooding. Two days later, he found his daughters softball bats, gloves and helmets in a puddle of water in their shed in the backyard.
"The whole town was devastated," said Egan, a firefighter with Engine 328 in Far Rockaway. "It'll be nice for families to have something to look forward to. There's nothing quite like sitting back, enjoying the breeze off the water and watching your kids play ball."
To donate new or gently-used baseball or softball equipment, or make a financial donation, visit pitchinforbaseball.org, or text "Give Gloves" to 80088 to make a $10 donation.