Milka Galarza is the kind of baseball fan who loves to see children play. They could be of any shape and size, any skill level, any age – they just have to love the game. At a recent Saturday practice, she traded shoes with a 10- year-old boy because he wanted to play, but could not practice in his brand new white sneakers that his sister had purchased for him. So instead, Galarza unlaced her own sneakers, handed them over, and took a seat, watching baseball practice on a bench 20 feet from the field, shoeless and smiling.
But after more than two decades watching over the Carballo Youth Little League, which was founded by her late husband in 1994, Galarza is also watching the number of players slowly dwindle, and start to threaten the viability of the league. The league has gone from a high of 10 teams in each division to four as of this year. This season, even with the addition of a travel team for 14-year–olds, the total number of boys and girls of summer has fallen to 200.
And it’s not just a Hunts Point problem. Last year a new little league baseball organization serving kids in Longwood and Soundview also never took hold.
“Now-a-days, parents are not as committed to getting kids to play team sports as they were before,” said Galarza, as she watched practice on an overcast Saturday in Longwood’s Bill Rainey Park. “Now it is getting harder and harder to find parents and children who want to come to the practices and the games so that it makes having a league that much more difficult,” said Galarza, adding that she thinks there will be a trickle-down effect to the local high schools if fewer kids are trained to play ball at a young age.
The Carballo Youth Baseball League, a non-profit organization, has been operating with no affiliation with the official national Little League or Babe Ruth Baseball since it was started by local resident and Galarza’s husband, Julio Carballo, in Rainey Park. He hoped to help children play ball, stay fit and learn the basics of America’s national pastime. Carballo was so determined to make the league a success, he continued acting as league president even as he battled lung cancer. He died in 1996, two years after starting the league, and Galarza didn’t think twice about taking over. She enlisted her son a few years later.
“It’s something that brings me joy to see the smiling kid’s faces when they get the medals and awards,” said Galarza, a former teacher. “Also to get the kids off the street is great too, to help them shape their lives. That’s why I really do this.”
This year marks the first time that the league will have a 14-year-old travel team. It is being added with the hope of widening the appeal to a broader range of children. The team will play other neighborhood leagues as well as in several cities including Washington D.C. and Philadelphia.
“We’re real excited about that,” said Jose Galarza, Milka’s son and the manager of the travel team and vice president of the league.
As for the future of the league beyond this season, the Galarzas don’t know if the numbers will ever come back. “Your guess is as good as mine,” said Milka Galarza. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
This year’s season opens on May 13 with the annual parade starting at the Hunts Point McDonald’s parking lot (875 Garrison Ave.) at 11 a.m. sharp. Players and coaches will make their way down to Julio Carballo Field (at the corner of Manida Street and Lafayette Avenue) for the opening ceremonies at noon. There will be two opening day games: one Little League division game and one Pee-Wee league game. After opening day, games take place on that field every Saturday. Practices will take place weekly for each team at either Carballo Field or in Rainey Park. League fees are $35 for the youngest division, $65 for 7-9-year-olds, $75 for 11-12-year-olds and $125 for 13-to-15-year-olds, which helps offset the cost of the travel team.