A significant portion of the more than 400,000 volunteer managers and coaches who make Little League baseball tick across the country stay with their teams only as long as their own kids are up to bat.
Jim Downey, on the other hand, remained a mainstay for the North Riverdale Baseball League long after coaching his own boys, Jimmy, Brian and Michael. For nearly 30 years, before his death from lung cancer in 2009, Downey helped manicure the league’s fields, was its president and treasurer and most importantly, mentored its children — neighbors and strangers alike.
To show its gratitude, the league, in partnership with St. Margaret of Cortona Parish and the Knights of Columbus, has taken the first steps toward renaming a street in front of one of the league’s fields in honor of Downey.
Failing to do so before next season’s first pitch of spring would be unforgivable.
Downey’s connections to the community and country were varied and weighty. He agreed to return to work following his 40 years at the FBI to help the agency after the 9/11 attacks.
Downey was also an official on the Parish Counsel at St. Margaret’s. He ran fund-raising projects for the church and played a key role in its renovation during the 1990s. He served as chairman of the Men’s Beefsteak Committee, which raised thousands of dollars for the parish’s sports programs.
Still, Downey was probably best known for his knowledge and comportment on the baseball diamond.
Starting as an assistant coach in the early 80s, he has become an example of how Little League mentors should balance sportsmanship and the desire to win.
“With my dad, there was no favoritism,” said son Brian Downey. “He would have no problem pulling me out if I wasn’t playing well.”
Steven Brown was coached by Downey for three seasons. “It wasn’t just about winning, it was about playing the right way and doing the right thing,” said Brown. “He raised us as players and as human beings.”