By John Burton
LITTLE SILVER – It’ll be “Play ball!” for youngsters in much of the Two River area in the coming year – but with a distinct difference.
Young ballplayers will be taking the field in the summer as official members of the Little League International organization.
Representatives from Fair Haven, Rumson, Little Silver, Red Bank and Shrewsbury have announced they are forming a new Little League charter for the five communities for the coming year.
The Two River Little League will have boys, ages 9-16, playing baseball, while girls, ages 5-16, will be playing organized softball as official Little League organization teams.
What this will do, according to Chris Kelly, a Shrewsbury resident and president of the new league, is “put a well known brand wrapper around it and bring all the formal structure and policies and procedures into place” for children participating in the program.
Kelly, who is also the president of the Shrewsbury Recreation Committee, said residents in the five communities have relied on local recreation programs and the Eastern Monmouth Sport Association, a fairly loose-knit organization, to oversee local organized baseball and softball.
“We’ll have the opportunity now to create more organization, more structure” with the affiliation with the Little League, Kelly said.
As far as he knows, there hasn’t been a local Little League charter in the area before, certainly not in recent memory.
Over the years, participation has waned with recreation programs for baseball, and especially for girl’s softball, because they compete with other what Kelly called “travel sports” programs, such as soccer, basketball and lacrosse.
Last spring Shrewsbury, for example, had a total of eight girls signed up for softball as part of the borough’s recreation program, Kelly said.
For players there is a clear benefit in participating in the program, noted Del Dal Pra, athletic director for Red Bank Regional High School.
“As a coach I can see the difference,” he said about those who had experience playing in organized Little League. “You can see the kids were more prepared for high school baseball.
“There’s some great talent here” among the five communities, Dal Pra said. “Some great names have come through here and, if we were more organized back then, who knows? They may have made it to Cooperstown.”
“Hopefully, this will attract a lot of the really good baseball players who are abandoning the rec programs,” Kelly said.
Players participating in Little League have the chance to play for a little longer season than most rec programs, Kelly said.
He pointed out the Little League ballplayers may have a chance to participate in the organized All-Star series that takes place after the regular season, which would be a real thrill for them.
The charter will have two divisions: The eastern division comprised of Rumson and Fair Haven teams and the western, with the other three community teams. Teams will play between 10 and 12 games during the season, with oversight by the local recreation programs.
Registration will begin in January with practice beginning in February and the season starting in April, Kelly said.
Little League International was founded in 1939 and is headquartered in Williamsport, Pa. The organization began playing its World Series back in 1947.