We are all in amazement of the dedication and talent of our young West Orange athletes. One of the goals of our youth sports programs is to develop our players so they are ready for high school and are prepared for success at that next level of play. Throughout the course of the year we will be featuring some of our talented young athletes and coaches. This week we have the perspective of West Orange High School (WOHS) freshmen, Owen Hagstrom. Owen is an honors student, currently participating in the Institute for Humanities program at WOHS. Owen plays baseball for the WOHS JV and Freshman baseball teams and is a significant player in the PAL Travel Baseball program. Owen volunteers at the WO Rec department during the summer and the WOHS-PAL Summer Baseball Camp and PAL Winter Clinics, providing guidance to the younger players, some just learning baseball for the first time.

On a personal note, we have watched Owen transition over the course of several years from a child to a young man in the PAL program. There has been disappointment, frustration, loss, mixed in with several highlights – bringing in the go ahead run, pitching a no hitter, winning a championship (or two), just to name a few. The journey to get to high school sports is unique for each player but one thing they all possess is the desire to work hard. "I have had the privilege to coach Owen or against him for the last seven years in the travel program and when PAL had in house. He's a great kid on and off the field. Owen is very coachable and always willing to share his knowledge with younger players. I look forward to watch him continue his playing career at WOHS," said WO PAL Coach, Rob Kost. Owen has earned his title as a ballplayer. Owen was awarded the prestigious Vincent Albanese Award, which is presented to one PAL player in their final season before moving on to high school, who has played consecutive years with the PAL, and who best demonstrates the principals of the PAL. The PAL could not be more proud to have him as part of our family.

From the perspective of Owen Hagstrom:

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The first time I ever visited the PAL field, I knew I wanted to play there. I was 8 years old and my neighbor John O'Connor had invited my dad and I down to watch a game. It was a beautiful spring evening and seeing the kids playing on the field, the bright lights, the scoreboard and all of the parents watching, I was hooked.  That moment was the start of something special. My years playing for PAL have given me not just the technical skills I need to play the game, but have given me a baseball family.  A group of coaches and players who are truly family to me.  A group of people who I know care about me as a player and as a person.  

I started playing for PAL when I was 9 years old in 2013.  My neighbor John O'Connor was my first coach when I played for Johnny's Pizza.  Mr. O'Connor was my coach for 2 years and taught me so much about the game and gave me confidence in my abilities and about how it was important to play the game well and also to always be a good sport, on and off the field.  He dedicated countless hours to helping me learn the game and I am forever grateful to him for that.  We won the championship on my 11th birthday in 2014.  This was the last year PAL ran the in-house baseball program and I have that trophy in my room.  

In the summer of 2014, PAL took over the travel baseball program and I started playing for Coach Rob and Coach Edwin.  They have now been my coaches through summer, fall and spring seasons since that time.  I have played with them for 12 seasons now.  We have played in Cooperstown twice and are going this year for a 3rd time.  Coach Rob and Coach Edwin have done so much for me and I am grateful. They are mentors, friends and are always there for the players.  Now in my freshman year of high school, Coach Rob and Coach Edwin have been at my high school games to support me and cheer me on.  

With practices almost every day and games every day, my coaches have prepared me and made me a stronger player every day. One thing I can say is that every time that I would come out of a practice, I would have learned something new and would be ready to use it. Along with that, the constant repeating of drills and ground balls prepared me for games ahead. Everything that went into these practices helped develop skill as a player and baseball understanding otherwise known as baseball IQ.

However, my PAL coaches did not just stop at developing players on the field, but off the field as well. PAL provided the basis to becoming a good person and citizen. PAL teaches players about character. When you are on the field, coaches preach the ideas of being kind and respectful to other players, coaches, and umpires. Along with that, they are constantly checking in to make sure that everyone is doing well academically and is overall feeling good. These coaches are some of the most caring people I have had in my life and I know without question that they want to see all of their players turn out well both on the field and off the field.

The things about PAL that is so special is that everyone is truly a family. As a team, we have been through some things that I can honestly say were the most difficult that I may ever face. Experiences that have defined who I am as a person and not just a player. Through everything, the team has been there for one another. PAL is one huge family in which I know that my coaches, teammates and all the parents are there for one another. It's not just about baseball. Of course that's important, but I know that I am part of something bigger than baseball. 

PAL has done an amazing job at preparing me for my future on and off the field. I can't wait until I am old enough to coach my own team and have the opportunity to instill the values I have been taught in young players. PAL has done so much for me and I appreciate everyone who has been a part of that. PAL has shaped the person I am and I will take those values and lessons with me in my adult life.


West Orange Baseball is overseen by the WO Baseball Committee which consists of representatives from PAL, MTL, along with Coach Zichella and Coach Blumkin of the WOHS Baseball teams, and WOHS Principal Hayden Moore.  For those interested in the West Orange Baseball programs, tryouts for Spring Travel Baseball take place in November for the following spring season; tryouts take place in May for the Summer Travel Baseball team, and Fall Travel tryouts take place in August. Tryouts are open to all West Orange residents ages 5-14.  Those interested in playing in house baseball, MTL opens registration in March for the spring season, open to West Orange residents ages 5-12 beginning with T-Ball. Evaluations for players ages 10-12 take place in March as well.



Summer Baseball Tryouts:

PAL will be holding Summer Baseball tryouts for residents ages 11 through 14.  Players must attend at least 2 tryouts to be considered for a team.  More information regarding the tryouts can be located at www.wopal.org or by e-mailing info@wopal.org.

                   Ages 11-14
                   May 14,May 15, May 16, and May 17, 7-9pm at WOHS Turf Baseball Field

Make up date: Saturday May 19, 1-3pm at the WOHS Turf Baseball Field - all ages (5-14) - ONLY for players who did not make a second tryout date.


Summer Softball Tryouts:

Tryouts for the Mountain Top League's Travel Softball league will be held on Saturday, May 12th at Kelly Elementary.  Tryouts are for teams ranging from 8U to 14U.  Pre-registration is required.  To register and for more details please visit http://www.mountaintopleague.com//program/softball.


Travel Soccer

West Orange United will hold tryouts for its 2018-2019 travel teams in May.  Additional details to follow at http://www.mountaintopleague.com//program/west-orange-united-travel-soccer.


Swim Team Tryouts:

The West Orange Recreation Department's Wave Swim Team will be holding their tryouts on Wednesday, May 30th at the Ginny Duenkel Pool.  Interested candidates must pre-register for the tryouts at www.westorange.org/rec.  Past participation on the team does not guarantee placement on the team and all interested candidates must be registered for the tryouts.  Swim team tryouts are open to residents ages 7 through 18.


Travel Baseball Hit-A-Thon

The West Orange PAL will host its Annual Hit-A-Thon Fundraiser on Saturday, June 2, beginning at 5pm following the Downtown Street Fair! The Hit-A-Thon will take place under the lights of the PAL field. Those who would like to participate should contact info@wopal.org or you can donate directly on: https://99pledges.com/fund/2018PALHITaTHON.


Football and Cheerleading Registration:

New season – new league! The PAL will hold registration for the 2018 fall Football and Cheerleading teams in June. Details will be available on http://www.wopal.org.


Interested in volunteering with PAL?  Email info@wopal.org.

Interested in volunteering with MTL? Email mountaintopleague@gmail.com (sport-specific emails are available on the MTL website.



Jennifer Buesser has lived in West Orange since 2005.  She is a long-time MTL volunteer and current trustee.  Cheryl Merklinger is a life-long West Orange resident.  She is a second- generation PAL volunteer and current trustee.  We Are West Orange highlights youth sports in town, including the kids they benefit and the volunteers who make them all possible.

For more information about MTL programs:   http://www.mountaintopleague.com/.

For more information about PAL programs: http://www.wopal.org.

For information about WO Recreation Dep’t Programs: http://www.westorange.org/index.aspx?nid=87.

Logo designed by Andrew Mazurek, WOHS Class of 2002: http://www.andrewmazurekart.com.