Column: Why are they preying on the YMCA?

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Joan Zaniskey of Aquebogue spoke at the 'Save the Main Road' meeting Saturday.

Surprise of surprises: The good people of Jamesport, South Jamesport and Aquebogue appreciate the benefits of building a YMCA somewhere in Riverhead or Southold towns. They just don’t want it in their own backyard — specifically on 8.8 wooded acres across the Main Road from Vineyard Caterers in Aquebogue.

Just like the people of Aquebogue didn’t want a YMCA on Tuthills Lane. Or the people of Greenport didn’t want a YMCA on Front Street. Or the people of Laurel didn’t want a YMCA in their hamlet, which straddles the border between Riverhead and Southold towns. (I still think former Southold Town supervisor Tom Wickham was on the money when he suggested locating the Y in Laurel, because it would have conveniently drawn members from both towns and Shelter Island.)

My memory is getting a little shaky at this point, but wasn’t there once a suggestion to locate a new YMCA at the former Grumman property in Calverton? I can only assume it was nixed by the deer and endangered salamanders who camped nearby.

There’s a certain pattern at work here, wouldn’t you agree? And if it were a scientific formula, it would read: YMCA + NIMBY = 0.

I used to think there might be a racial component to some of the Y opposition. I had no hard proof for said theory, just a gut feeling that overwhelmingly lily-white hamlets might be doing their NIMBY thing because a Y would draw people of color from both Riverhead and Greenport, the only local communities with significant minority populations.

But my latest theory holds that age discrimination, rather than race discrimination, is a major component of this naysaying.

Methinks there are just too many of us old-timers living hereabouts to embrace a facility that would cater primarily to children and young families. I’m guessing a 40,000-square-foot senior citizens recreational center on the Main Road — across from a catering hall, a few hundred yards from a major vineyard and tasting room, and less than a mile from several of the busiest farm stand operations on the North Fork — would not be drawing this level or intensity of opposition. Sure, additional traffic is always a concern on the Main Road, but the traffic generated by a Y isn’t likely to have a major impact. What are we talking about here, 20 or 25 cars an hour at peak hours on a road that now must handle 10 times that volume in a typical hour?

Sooner or later, the good folks who have been championing a North Fork YMCA for decades (!) are bound to realize their dream, but it won’t come any easier now that we gray panthers are on the prowl.

No doubt you’ve heard of professional athletes who take their celebrity and obscene compensation for granted. You know, the sort of player who brushes past a little kid who’s holding out a baseball to be autographed without so much as a sideways glance.

Now please meet Heath Bell, star closer for the Florida Marlins Major League Baseball team. That is exactly what our 11-year-old grandson did at a recent spring training workout conducted by the Marlins at their facility in Jupiter, Fla.: meet Heath Bell. And how.

Not only did Mr. Bell sign Tyler Olsen’s baseball, but he stopped to chat after Tyler said “please” and “thank you” and wished him well in the upcoming season. Apparently, saying please and thanks is not something most autograph seekers do. In fact, the Big League player then asked Tyler’s opinion as to whether he should sign his name for the dozens of other autograph seekers shoving their pens and papers and baseballs in Mr. Bell’s direction, without uttering so much as a please or thank you. Apparently, Tyler’s good manners and good wishes had put him in the position of deciding who else would or wouldn’t get an autograph.

Tyler is a really good kid, and he took pity on the other autograph seekers, making note that they, too, had been waiting for quite some time for Heath Bell to pass by.

But before he signed his name another time, Mr. Bell did something that Tyler (not to mention Tyler’s grandfather) will remember for the remainder of his days. He invited Tyler and Tyler’s dad over to his car and said something like, “Here, I have something for you.” And what he had was a brand spanking new Heath Bell autographed model baseball mitt, which he presented to Tyler without further fanfare.

Now, a professional baseball player who makes $9 million a year gifting a glove valued at several hundred dollars to an 11-year-old kid may not be that big a deal in most circles, but in the Olsen and Gustavson households it is now the stuff of legend.

The Yankees’ Mariano Rivera still is our favorite closer. But when he retires next year, you can probably guess who our new favorite closer will be.

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