LIVINGSTON, NJ — Sixty-five years of Livingston Little League was celebrated in unique fashion on Saturday, as opening day was proclaimed Knock Cancer Out of the Park Day in honor of the fundraising campaign inspired by 13-year-old Jake Kestler that will donate $100 to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) for every home run hit in the Major League division this season.
Jake, who was diagnosed with Leukemia when he was seven and then with brain cancer in December 2016, kicked off the Little League season by throwing the celebratory first pitch. Mayor Ed Meinhardt followed suit with the second pitch, and Deputy Mayor Al Anthony pitched the first softball to officially begin the 2018 Livingston Little League and Softball (LLLS) season.
Joined by Councilmen Shawn Klein and Rudy Fernandez, Meinhardt and Anthony thanked Dr. Steve Arsht for starting the Knock Cancer Out of the Park (KCOP) campaign last year and the LLLS community at large for keeping the fundraiser going.
“It shows the sense of volunteerism that this community has and how residents help residents during tough times,” said Meinhardt. “It was a great thing for Dr. Steve Arsht to take this on his own and present it to the community at large. It’s making such a large splash within the community.”
“As we step out on the field today and every day this season, we will think of you,” Arsht said to Jake during the ceremony. “We will think of your strength and your courage and how much you love this game, and we will swing for the fences so we can Knock Cancer Out of the Park once and for all.”
He later added that no words could describe the feeling of walking out onto the field on Saturday and seeing the “outpouring of love and support from all corners of our community, coming together to do something special for Jake.”
“[It] reinforced why I love this town so much,” said Arsht. “The love, support and generosity of people in our community and their willingness to reach out and help a young child needs to be recognized.”
Jake’s father, Josh Kestler, said the family was also touched by the outpouring of support for Jake, and added that he is extremely proud of Jake’s courage in helping to inspire so many people to support the campaign.
“I felt that the Little League opening day ceremonies were a reflection of the greatness of our Livingston community,” he said. “Our community is extremely compassionate and we come together to support one another. My family is extremely proud to be part of the Livingston community and we are thankful and humbled by everyone’s love and support.”
As Jake has been a patient of MSKCC since he was seven years old, Josh knows first-hand how beneficial these funds will be in helping to find “better and more innovative treatment options for pediatric cancers.” He said that the ultimate goal is to find a cure and eradicate pediatric cancer once and for all.
“I really look forward to expanding this program so we can do special things for other children and their families in our community that may be going through what Jake is going through,” said Arsht. “What's better than doing something special like this to see a child smile and create memories that will last a lifetime?”
Arsht and Josh both said that one of the most touching moments of the day was when the high school baseball teams surprised Jake by arriving at the ceremony wearing TEAM JAKE jerseys with his favorite number, seven, on the back.
“We had no idea that [they] would come out to the little league opening day,” said Josh. “It was a very special moment when the team buses arrived and the entire team came out wearing TEAM JAKE jerseys. It brought tears to my eyes and a lot of joy to Jake and I am sure to all of the little leaguers who were in attendance.”
Later that afternoon, following a TEAM JAKE New York Yankees win at the Northland Little League complex, Jake was invited to serve as the honorary captain of the Livingston High School varsity baseball team during the Lancers’ home game against Newark East Side. Click HERE to see how Jake contributed to their victory.
“I can't stress to you enough how amazing it was to watch the high school boys include Jake in everything they did—how they accepted him, talked to him, and made him feel comfortable and a part of something special,” said Arsht. “From Mayor Ed Meinhardt and the town council, to Pat Ippolito and the board of Livingston Little League Baseball and Softball, to athletic director Dave Cohen and Head Coach Mickey Ennis, to the players that opened up their hearts and displayed such warmth and kindness, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Ippolito, president of LLLS, said the Livingston program is one of the best in the state thanks to the Livingston Little League and Softball board members and the many volunteers who commit their time and energy to the program.
He thanked the Township of Livingston, the Livingston Police Department and the Department of Public Works for helping with parking issues and making the ceremony possible.
Father and son, Jason and Ben Lerner, said the Little League pledges, vowing on behalf of the entire league to play fair and strive to win this season.
Click HERE to learn more about how KCOP began.