By STEVEN COOK
NISKAYUNA — Grandfather David Mennillo was explaining the intricacies of 9-year-old baseball when events in the game intervened.
Niskayuna’s team of 9-year-olds was in the field playing the opening game of the Cal Ripken Eastern New York State Tournament at Blatnick Park on July 18 when there was a base hit and a play at second.
“Throw it in, throw it in!” the proud grandfather yelled, immediately turning his attention to the action. “Put it on him! Put it on him!”
After the runner was safe, Mennillo consoled.
“Alright, alright,” the 67-year-old Niskayuna postal carrier said. “That’s OK. That’s OK.”
Such is life at a baseball game played by 9-year-olds: Proud parents and grandparents watching their children and grandchildren learn to do what their heroes do, play baseball. Mennillo himself was once a coach. His son Chris is a coach, and his grandson Dylan is the second baseman.
Niskayuna hosted the tournament at Blatnick after parents put in countless hours to make sure the field was ready and the big welcome was ready.
Niskayuna, as host, got an automatic berth and the boys ran with it. The team walked away with the championship Tuesday night, beating Saratoga 12-2.
It advances now to the Mid-Atlantic regionals in New Jersey, the top tournament for the age class.
Niskayuna made the championship game after a Monday 5-4 win over Burnt Hills. The celebration of that victory was tempered by a freak accident involving Burnt Hills coach Fred Veronezi, whose finger got caught in a fence and was severed.
Three days before that, at the outset of the tournament, the focus was on nothing but the players.
Leanne Goldberg, the mother of Niskayuna outfielder Caleb Goldberg, was a co-chair of the event.
She took a well-deserved respite from the work it took from everyone to put the event together and watched the Niskayuna kids play.
“A lot of work, a lot of parent involvement, a lot of long hours,” Goldberg said.
Parents built a scoreboard from scratch and painted the concession stand — all of it volunteer work. The town also helped get the grounds in shape for the tournament.
With all that, it was time to enjoy the games.
“It’s awesome,” Goldberg said. “It’s so much fun to be here. Our Niskayuna kids are such a good group of kids and it’ll be fun to watch them grow up together.”
For another grandfather watching Friday’s initial game, seeing his grandson brought out another emotion — nervousness.
“It’s wonderful,” said grandfather Cal Kenyon, 82, of watching grandson Noah play, “but it hurts your belly.”
Noah Kenyon plays outfield and pitches for the team, wearing No. 2. His grandfather proudly says, “he’s Jeter,” referring to the New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, a future Hall of Famer now playing his last season.
Cal Kenyon has another connection to the team. His son, Mike Kenyon, is the head coach.
After Friday’s game, Mike Kenyon called it an honor to have Niskayuna selected as host of the tournament, and he too credited the volunteer efforts. The parents, he said, did an outstanding job preparing for and making the tournament happen.
“Yeah, it’s very emotional to see how we come together as a family,” he said Friday, “and that kind of support goes a long way, not just for this year, but for the future of Niskayuna baseball.”
All that work — not to mention all the work the Niskayuna players themselves put in — resulted in a showing that represented Niskayuna baseball more than proudly.
The team gave up just four runs as it won its first four games, including an 8-0 victory over a Troy team Friday and a 13-1 drubbing of Clifton Park on Sunday.
Monday’s opponent, Burnt Hills, proved almost too much for the kids from Niskayuna. Going into the bottom of the final inning, the score was tied at 4. The winning run came on a throw that got past the Burnt Hills third baseman and it was on to the championship Tuesday.