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Player, 9, honored on Opening Day

Opening Day for the Glen Oaks Little League was like many others in its 60-year history. Lines of kids marched in the annual parade to the ballfield before dissolving into a chaotic mixture of team colors, hot dogs and flying baseballs.

But one tiny ballplayer would only be there in spirit this season.

Glen Oaks lawmakers, friends and fellow Little Leaguers gathered to honor 9-year-old Steven Petillo, of Floral Park, who died in a car accident´╗┐ last year when truck collided with the family’s van on I-95 in Virginia.

Petillo had a lifetime of innings ahead of him, but he probably could never have matched his love of the game at 9.

“He was a lifelong Yankee fan,” said his father, Mike Petillo. “I remember by the time he was 3 years old, he would call me at work and update me on the games.”

Steven was obsessed with the game. He pitched and played shortstop and would fill in any position that was needed.

“Baseball was his life,” Petillo said.

And Petillo would know: He was Steven’s coach.

Petillo has decided to coach again this year in honor of his son. The Steven Petillo Yankees will always be a player short, but Petillo felt it was the right thing to do.

“It’s all his buddies. It’s what he would want us to do,” Petillo said as his wife, Maria, clutched Steven’s team jersey, a small shirt bearing the number 55 — the same number of Steven’s favorite former Yankee, Hideki Matsui.

But these Yankees do not play in pinstripes. All the jerseys are red, in honor of Steven’s favorite color.

In addition to the shirt, the league presented the family, including Steven’s mother and his older brothers Nicholas and Vincent, with a plaque and plan to install a series of stars behind home plate.

“He was just a great kid and will be deeply missed,” Petillo said. “It’s amazing how a family can completely change in the blink of an eye.”

Steven’s peers will do their part as well, since if there was one thing he loved, it was a good baseball game.

All the players seemed energized by the sunny spring weather after a harsh winter.

Six-year old Jacob Donelson was licking a layer of ketchup off his second hot dog of the day and ready to hit the diamond for the first time this season, according to his mother.

“It’s fun, the kids march in the parade along with the sponsors and other people hold the flags,” said Linda Donelson.

City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) and state Assemblyman Edward Braunstein (D-Bayside) were on hand to throw out the first pitch.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.

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