“Little Things Make Big Things Happen”.
It’s a quote by John Wooden, one of the most famous and inspirational basketball coaches in history. It’s also a motto of the Wood-Ridge Baseball Program. And after seeing what happened with COVID19 and the cancellation of spring sports season, it also became the mantra for the Borough of Wood-Ridge, at least in my eyes. This small little town of Wood-Ridge has accomplished some really big things in the past 2 months. Things that no other bigger towns even dared to do. This is why I’m extremely proud to be a Blue Devil.
After a month into the quarantine, the spring season was officially canceled. Seniors lost out playing for their high school and with their friends one last time before graduation. However, as long as their family and friends came away healthy, that’s a win, and more important than any baseball season. But to these kids, although minuscule in the game of life, it is everything. Anyone that has ever played sports knows how important one season is, let alone your senior season.
I’ve been the Wood-Ridge baseball now coach for 10 years. And although I always felt welcomed and appreciated at Wood-Ridge, I didn’t know how good I had it until COVID19. How you deal with adversity is a sign of character; that’s when your true colors come out. Since the outbreak of coronavirus first suspended the spring baseball season, and knowing that this was unlikely to go away, I reached out to Mayor Paul Sarlo to create a plan of attack if the inevitable did happen. We decided that every Tuesday we would have an inter-squad game for the program and on Thursday we would pick up a game against another town. We would get at least 1 full month of baseball in. Once June rolled around, our plan was still in limbo until we got clearance from the governor to start sports again. Eventually, we got great new that on June 22nd, recreational sports would be allowed to start up again. On July 6th, they would be able to start actual games and youth sports camps would be allowed to start up. On July 13th, the high school coaches would be allowed to coach their kids again. Baseball was back!
However, with these announcements came a multitude of restrictions and guidelines that scared off many towns, coaches, and camp organizers, but not Wood-Ridge. We decided that if this was the new normal, we were going to face it head on and accept it for what it is, and find a way to persevere. Never have I seen a town go above and beyond to give the kids a little spring season. Our rec league was up and running. I had to get 4 parent coaches (Paul Sarlo, Joe Crandall, Mike Kaseman and Bob Packen). They volunteered their time, followed my practice plans and line-ups, and did an outstanding job coaching the kids for the first two weeks of practices, inter-squads, and games.
In addition, we found a way to run my youth baseball summer program. The town purchased Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (disinfectant spray, sanitizer, masks, and gloves). They gave me access to three different fields, and I staggered the starts of the 3 different age groups for 56 total kids. They got the DPW to clean the bathrooms and open up the fields. They moved overall construction projects at the high school to allow me to run my camp and rec team without any issues or interruptions. Anything I needed, the town found a way to get it done, even though it put more and more work on their shoulders. All they cared about, is giving the kids a good baseball experience, something they haven’t had in months.
On top of this, an idea of a statewide tournament for all groups was being floated around, a potential Last Dance baseball tournament that would eventually involve 222 teams and a lot of drama. Many high schools and towns wouldn’t allow their facilities to be used, wouldn’t allow their high school teams to enter, and wouldn’t provide any additional support. Summer baseball has nothing to do with the high school or the town. The high school and town of Wood-Ridge made sure it had everything to do with it. After entering the tournament, I requested that Wood-Ridge become a host site. Amid all the construction projects, they yet again found a way to make it happen. Not even that, but we took over Becton’s facilities, so we can host another site to provide neighboring towns a local venue to play against each other. The town found a way to make it work.
Charlie Trentacosti moved his football practices and camp to allow the tournament to take place at Wood-Ridge, he would even become the site director. Chris Eilert and the DPW came up clutch and finished all projects, cleaned the facilities, created barriers between the players and fans, provided tents and even workers to disinfect the dugouts and clean the bathrooms. Marc Sinclair, the Wood-Ridge athletic director, spent countless hours helping me setup, supervise, re-arrange the turf schedule and clean up the Wood-Ridge facilities outside of his normal work hours. The facilities were brand new, music was blasting, the fans and players social distanced, and the Wood-Ridge Last Dance venue set the bar pretty high. Baseball was back now and better than ever.
Wood-Ridge first beat North Arlington 6-0 on Tuesday, then Midland Park 3-0 on Wednesday, and then was pitted against League Rival, returning State Champions, and the clear favorite of the region, St. Mary’s Gaels on Thursday. The recipe for success for Wood-Ridge was pitching and defense, and the pitching and defense came up clutch again. Wood-Ridge won 6-0, giving then their third shutout in three days, and third win of the tournament to advance to the North Sweet 16. They will face perennial state powerhouse Delbarton, on Tuesday at 1 pm at TD Bank Ballpark in Somerset. It’s no surprise the odds are overwhelming against the Wood-Ridge Blue Devils. But little things, make big things happen.
I would like to thank Paul Sarlo, for pretty much supporting the program in any way we ask, Chris Eilert for his help with moving construction projects and purchasing the PPE, Jackie Goldklang, Phil Romero and the WR Rec commission for their help with the summer baseball youth program and turf schedule, and the Wood-Ridge HS administration (Nick Cipriano, Joe Sutera, Maria Barrows, and Marc Sinclair) for their support throughout the year and the summer.