CALDWELL, NJ — The Caldwell Oval will be the site next Tuesday as the baseball teams from West Essex, Cedar Grove and James Caldwell high schools finally get back on the field after having their spring seasons wiped out by the pandemic.
Each of them will be taking part in the Last Dance Tournament, which involves 222 teams from all over New Jersey participating in a three-week competition that will begin with three days of pool play followed by two weeks' worth of bracket-style playoffs. Every team will be guaranteed at least three games during the pool play portion, which will begin next Tuesday.
The Caldwell Regional at The Oval will match the Caldwell Chiefs against Glen Ridge at 10 a.m. Tuesday followed by West Essex vs. Cedar Grove at 2 p.m. on Tuesday.
The Day One winners will meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday at The Oval, and the two losing teams from Tuesday will play each other at 2 p.m. Wednesday at The Oval. On Thursday, the third day of pool play, the teams will cross over and play teams in corresponding places in the standings in the Livingston Region to determine who advances to the bracket portion of the tournament the following week. The Livingston region consists of Millburn, Columbia, Livingston and Hanover Park.
As something that is taking place out of season, the tournament is not an NJSIAA event. It was organized by Mike Murray Jr., the head baseball coach at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen, with help from Millburn coach Brian Chapman and an area baseball scout, J.T. Kroeger. It is considered a high school summer tournament, not a club tournament, and teams will play under National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rules.
According to a series of reopening directives from Governor Phil Murphy, baseball practices were allowed to begin on June 22, and games will be permitted beginning July 6. On June 22, the maximum size of outdoor gatherings was increased from 100 to 250 people, and that figure expanded to 500 people this week--when Murphy also mandated outdoor face coverings "when social distancing is not possible." This directive is not expected to affect players on the field during the games.