MADISON, NJ - Madison softball player, eighth-grader Yan Yan Li threw out the ceremonial first pitch to begin the unofficial start of the 2019 softball and Little League baseball season. Festivities began at the Hartley Dodge Memorial where the teams assembled. As Robert Welter, president of Madison Softball declared, “This is a testament to our nice community and a great way to celebrate our kids.” The kids were dressed in their team uniforms and names of team sponsors were imprinted on their uniform tops. Among the sponsors named were Madison businesses including Quick Check, P.C. Problems, Wersing Plumbing, Madison Medical and Sports Rehabilitation, Madison Masonic Lodge, Italian Village Pizza, The London Day School, Cecala Landscaping, Madison Police, Madison Fire, CrossFit, Rocco’s Pizza, Investors Savings Bank, Alfred Sports Store, McKenna Bros. Construction, Rangel Dental, Mercer Health Benefits, Forum Club, Caruso Landscaping, and Madison Living.
Led by Mayor Robert Conley and Borough Council members, Astri Baillie, Maureen Byrne, Debra Coen, and John Hoover, and accompanied by Madison police and fire, the large group of players and their families paraded through the downtown to the newly refurbished Dodge Field. At the front of the pack were the girls of the Kinder-Ball program with their coach Dawn Neville. Following them were the girls of the Madison High School Softball team. At Dodge Field, the paraders were greeted by the Madison High School Boys Baseball team.
According to Neville, the Recreation Department’s softball teams register approximately 300 girls each season. The Kinder-Ball program is for girls in kindergarten and involves fun 60-minute sessions at the MRC (Madison Recreation Complex). The Rookie Division is for girls in grades 1 and 2 and is a coach pitch league. This division prepares players to take the next step as they hit live pitching as well as improve their defense by playing different positions in the field. Games are played at the MRC one evening and Saturday mornings. In grades 3 and 4, the division introduces players to pitching, leading, sliding and stealing. Coaches work hard to help players master all fundamental softball skills. The grade 5/6 division gives players the opportunity for competition with neighboring communities. The season finishes with seeded playoffs across all towns leading to a grand champion. The grade 7/8 division continues the competition with neighboring communities. Rules are as close as possible to high school softball to prepare players to continue with the game when they reach high school. The season finishes with seeded playoffs across all towns leading to a grand champion. After that, the girls are eligible to try out for the high school softball team.
Madison’s Little League, Inc. registers approximately 600 players each year and has been providing baseball to Madison since 1952. Madison Little League is available for players aged 5-16 in seven divisions of baseball, each with progressively higher levels of competition and skill development. Its website states that Madison Little League “promotes the ideals of good sportsmanship, honesty, courage, loyalty, respect and fair play. In addition, we strive to offer solid instruction in the foundational skills of baseball. Players' athletic ability and the winning of games are secondary considerations.”
Madison resident and Broadway performer Tom Selwin sang the National Anthem. The emcee of the events at Dodge Field was Ken Waer, President of Madison Little League, Inc. He thanked the Mayor and Borough Council members for funding improvements to the field. The Mayor applauded the condition of the field in spite of heavy rains and explained that open space funds were used to “make sure the kids have the best field.” He thanked Madison police and fire for accompanying the parade and DPW for meeting every request made to maintain the field. A bronze plaque was presented to John Costa, Jr., who was named to the Madison Hall of Fame. He was thanked for being the epitome of a volunteer and coach. A moment of silence was held to honor the passing this year of Madison native Don Newcombe, who was the first player in major league history to have won rookie of the year, Most Valuable Player and Cy Young awards. Jayme Mortman, a commissioner of Madison Little League, and his son Remington read the Little League Pledge. The ceremonial first pitch was thrown, the crowd dispersed, and the 2019 softball/baseball season was off and running.