CHATHAM, NJ - Mike Henne, president of the Baseball Club of Chatham, got his first sign that the new "Buddy Ball" League was going to be a success when the players got together for the first time.
"LJ (Bellas) is the oldest player and he came in like the mayor and started shaking everyone's hand," Henne said. "Then he says, 'Hey, why are we sitting around, let's have a catch.' That got everything started."
After a few weeks, the reviews were in on the first-year "Buddy Ball League," under the umbrella of Babe Ruth baseball. It is a huge hit in Chatham for all involved.
"Buddy Ball" is baseball for special needs kids. There are about 14 players, ages 5 to 14, who participate in the Chatham League and each of them has a buddy who they work with on the field.
"The parents and players say they all look forward to coming every week," Henne said. "The buddies enjoy it just as much as the players."
Nick Saluzzi, a sophomore who plays baseball for Chatham High, had the idea to start a league for special needs athletes in Chatham after volunteering for Try Can in Summit.
"They had a baseball program at Try Can, but it was only in the winter," Saluzzi said. "I thought we could do something outdoors."
Nick talked it over with his father, Joe, one night at the dinner table and soon after the league was born. Nick organizes the buddy volunteers and his mother, Marlena, is the league's photographer. Joe Saluzzi and Henne are the volunteer adult coaches.
The first half of the Buddy Ball League consists of some fun warmup and then the players split up and everyone plays the field and bats, with guidance from their buddies.
Grace Ames runs to first after her hit during Buddy Ball game