However, Town Commissioner Sal Vega said last week that the town merely wants to draw up a new lease, and is not trying to close the organization down.
"Our purpose is to have negotiations with them," Vega said last week. "We have to have a lease. The town of West New York is a major source of funding for that program, and for the maintenance of the field. If we're investing this much time and money, there should be a lease."
The basic understanding among the Little League committee is that for the last 23 years, the Little League's operation had been running on a verbal agreement. A new lease was never drawn up after the last one expired in the early 1980s because the league had made a verbal agreement with then Mayor Anthony DeFino regarding the operation of the field.
"We don't understand why it's all of a sudden a concern, and this wasn't a court-ordered eviction notice," said Cristina Luis, committee treasurer and mother of a Little Leaguer.
"The league and the town has always been a partnership; we need them as much as they need us," said Hector Hernandez, assistant supervisor for the athletic department for the town of West New York. "I am the secretary of the committee, and I have been coaching here since 1992. I also coach the team for the Housing Authority."
Hernandez, who has three children of his own participating in the league, has grown concerned in light of these events. Many parents have come to depend on the assurance of the WNY Little League field as place that is always open to their kids, and gives them a safe environment in the city.
"Every officer has tried to get in touch with Commissioner Sal Vega to see what can be done," said Hernandez. "It's not fair how they are going about it."
"We want them to come in and sign the lease and to have an understanding [of their operations], and those are the things we want to make clear, so we have proper insurance for their facilities," said Vega.
Concerns and questions
The concern over the league's future began after the committee received a letter signed by Commissioner Vega. The letter, which was dated Jan. 19 and postmarked Jan. 21, said it had come to the town's attention that there was no current lease between the town and the League for use of the facilities. The facilities, which are town property, include the field, press box, concession stand, club house, and parking lot.
The letter stated that due to liability concerns, the facilities had to be vacated by Jan. 31, except for items that directly related to the league and baseball recreation. This gave them a window of a little less than 10 days to fulfill this request.
Personal items including vehicles had to be removed, and Commissioner Vega closed the letter by requesting that the group meet with him as soon as possible to resolve the matter.
"We received the letter on the 22nd of January, and several attempts were made by phone and by fax to Commissioner Vega's office," said Cristina Luis. "No one has answered."
Luis said repeated attempts to reach the mayor and town attorney on the matter have also been fruitless. "The issue is the lease, which we need to sit down and discuss," she said. "We have two charters and kids expecting to play in the spring."
Humble beginnings and supporters
The Little League, which began around 1951, started with an American League Charter, and in 1953 they acquired a National League Charter. This made them the only town in Hudson County with two charter leagues. The major league is from 11 to 12 years old, the minors are for 9 to 10-year-olds. There is also T-ball for the 4-year-olds.
West New York Little League is considered the third largest Little League in the state.
Some of the team's biggest supporters and contributors are town officials, including the mayor and Commissioner Vega. They are also sponsored by organizations such as the Kiwanis Cuban Lions Club.
The kids who sign up do pay a small fee for their equipment and use of the facility, but if the family can't pay, the fee is wavered. The price is $30 for one child, and two for $40.
"And even with the sponsors, we maintain the field," said Luis.
The city provided the materials, but the members of the Little League have claimed that they did the actual repairs including moving dirt onto the field, removing a chain link fence, and even repairing the water heater in the clubhouse.
Vega said that all the Little League has to do is meet with town officials.
"The ball is in their court," he said. "If they're serious about having a meeting, then we can meet right away."
But the town has already put a crimp in their style. For the last five decades, the West New York Little League has started its annual recruitment during the month of January, and the kids have always had access to the facilities during the off season for batting practice. With the recent deadline given to vacate the premises, the locks to the gates of the field were changed sometime Tuesday afternoon, possibly after 3 p.m.
"The lock wasn't on the gate this morning, and they didn't notify us that the locks would be changed," said Frank Martinez, Sgt. of Arms. Martinez generally oversees security for the League, and is a former leaguer himself. "When we came at about 4 p.m. we had a new lock. Our lock had been cut off and replaced."
"The gate was locked yesterday, but the Little league cut the lock," said Vega. "They were given until the 31st, and it's not their field. It's town property, so it's as if they're trespassing."
The committee members said they attempted to re-establish their lease agreement last year after a fire destroyed their club house. A lot of paperwork was lost. The town helped rebuild the clubhouse, and the league wanted to refurbish their paperwork including the lease. But nothing was resolved.
According to the committee, the league is the only place residents can do something out of politics. If per chance things don't go as smoothly as they hope, the committee will prepare to go to court, and possibly even arrange a march on City Hall.
"Plain and simple, I just want the lease exactly the way it has always been," said Daniel Luis, president of the committee for the league. "Nothing should be changed within our fences."
In the stellar history of the West New York Little League, they came as home state champs in 1960 from the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. They were also finalist at the World Series in 1966.