MADISON, NJ -- In 1952, “I Love Lucy” was the number one show on television. Mr. Potato Head was a popular children’s gift (but you had to provide your own potato), and Red Skelton coined the phrase, “the greatest thing since sliced bread.” It was also the year when the Madison Little League (MLL) was born.
Ken Waer, President of the MLL today, said the rich history of the league is one of the reasons why it’s so strong today. “I know I speak for many parents, and maybe even some grandparents, that once the love of baseball gets into your veins, you want to do everything you can to pass it down to the next generation,” he said.
By the looks of things, it appears as if that’s happened. This year, the MLL has 600 kids on its spring roster, making it the second largest league in NJ District 1. These 600 kids make up 47 teams in six separate divisions: T-Ball, Farm, AA, AAA, Majors, and Juniors. On any given day in the spring in Madison, spectators can enjoy games on eight separate fields, watching the littlest of kids turn amazing double plays and listening to a chorus of prepubescent voices yelling, “Watch the steal!” and “Balls in, coming down!”
According to Waer, there are several reasons why the MLL continues to enjoy strong participation and growth. First, Waer and the rest of the board have worked hard to ensure that the league belongs to everyone. “Generally speaking, you will find two groups of kids playing baseball here in Madison -- one group that can be described as ‘diehards,’ who spend a lot of time perfecting their swing, intensely studying plays or gathering stats, and another group who just enjoy the game and want to learn -- but at a slower pace. We cater to both of these groups and feel that it strikes a good balance for us and the town in general.”
Second, the league has taken a number of steps to keep costs low and ensure that things run smoothly.
“We are proud of the financial investments we’ve made in the scoreboard at Dodge Field as well as in higher fences, batting cages, concrete pads, and the fact that we can provide new uniforms to each player every year, all at a reasonable cost,” he said. “We think we give a better bang for the buck compared to other sports.”
Third, Waer credits the many parents over the years who have taken time away from their lives -- and their jobs -- to coach, keep the book, volunteer in the snack hut, serve on the board, run tryouts, groom the fields after a day of rain, make pancakes, organize carwashes, and all of the other various things the league needs help with every season.
“I also have to recognize all of the parents who drive their kids to and from practice, do the endless loads of filthy laundry, figure out dinner on game days and, of course, cheer on the kids,” he said. “We would be nothing without you.”
Indeed, parents have been coming to MLL games ever since the beginning. In fact, TAPinto Madison recently found a photo of a group of spectators believed to be from 1959:
For comparison, here is a photo of spectators today (Note: There isn’t a single dress or strand of pearls in sight):
After discovering the 1959 photo, TAPinto Madison thought it would be fun to recreate the above 1959 photo, and asked a group of modern day Little League moms to dig through their closets, dust off their pearls, and come down to Sonny Vitale Memorial Field during a Majors makeup game on April 30, 2017. Here is the result:
(Pictured l to r are: Top Row -- Renee Ferris, Christine Regan, Caroline Eckhard, Mary Wilson, and Gina Randall. Middle Row -- Allison Melvin, Monica Contessa, Laura Axler, and Victoria Heskett. Bottom Row -- Gina McGuire, Stephanie Tracy, Amy Layng, and Tricia Armstrong. Special Thanks to Leslie Readlinger, photographer.)
The Future of the MLL
Looking toward the future, the MLL is excited about a partnership with Strike Zone, a premier indoor facility in East Hanover that provides training for coaches and clinics for players 11 months out of the year. Also, Waer wants to continue fostering a relationship with Frank Dasti, Varsity Baseball Head Coach at Madison High School, and maybe even get the high school players to come down to a T-Ball game in their uniforms to help warm up the kindergartners and first graders.
“Our ultimate goal is to develop so much talent, experience, and love of the game at the younger ages that Frank’s job becomes more and more difficult,” said Waer.
For more information about the Madison Little League, visit http://madisonll.teamsnapsites.com/