Through the program's Minor and Major League Divisions in the Cal Ripken Jr. League (ages seven through 12) and the Babe Ruth League (ages 13 through 15), as well as softball leagues for the girls, more than 350 township youngsters are able to participate in the national pastime.
"This is the biggest single program that we offer the kids," said Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner. "It involves a lot of kids for a long period of time through the summer, and it is a vital part of the community. It's better to keep the kids busy and active than hanging out on the streets. It's one of the broadest recreation programs we have. It's important to keep that going."
Last Sunday, the leagues had their annual Baseball Awards dinners and celebration at the Weehawken Elks Lodge No. 1456 on Boulevard East. More than 200 youngsters were presented with trophies, either for winning league championships, making All-Star teams or as top individual performers in the league.
The awards presentation has become so big in Weehawken that they have to hold two separate dinners. The minor league awards ceremony was held in the afternoon, and then the older kids had their awards presentation from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
It turns out to be a long day for the league organizers, especially baseball supervisor Art Strandberg.
"It's important that the kids get recognized for their achievements," Strandberg said. "They earn their awards, and it's great to see them get recognized. They get nice trophies, plaques and jackets for their hard work. A trophy or a plaque means so much to the kids. It's also satisfying for me to see their faces after they get an award. These kids are the cream of the crop."
Trophies and jackets awarded
The respective league champions were presented with jackets for winning championships. Pino & Son Supply won the Cal Ripken Major League championship and the Pathmark Athletics won the Babe Ruth League title.
Trophies were also given to the individual honorees in each league. David Strandberg, Art's son, and Sal Mendez, shared the award as the Cal Ripken League Most Valuable Player, with Derek Strandberg, Art's other son and David's older brother, was the MVP in the Babe Ruth League.
Oliver Molano was the winner of the Rookie of the Year in the Cal Ripken League, while James McCall and Michael Jodice shared the Rookie of the Year in the Babe Ruth League.
James Immerfall was named the Most Improved Player in the Cal Ripken League and Guytano Mongelli earned the same award in the Babe Ruth League.
The Louis A. Ferullo Memorial Sportsmanship Award, named after the late Deputy Mayor and First Ward Councilman who dedicated his life in Weehawken to recreation and youth activities, was presented to Bobby Reiss on the Ripken level and Jeremy Abreu in the Babe Ruth Division.
David Strandberg was the batting champion in the Cal Ripken league and Ray Feliciano won the award in the Babe Ruth League.
Turner said that the baseball program couldn't operate without the dedication of the entire town.
"Running the baseball leagues takes a lot of work," Turner said. "We have 45 volunteer coaches, which is a tremendous turnout. It's really a community event. The league gets bigger and bigger and we're able to take care of all of those kids. We had a great crowd for the event. The kids are really enthusiastic about it."
Strandberg said the kids anxiously await the annual awards dinner.
"It's amazing to see how much the acknowledgements and the trophies mean to the players," Strandberg said. "It's definitely satisfying to see the looks on their faces. I know we're doing the right thing. It's rewarding for me as well."
Strandberg said that he receives help running the Babe Ruth League from Alan Dembroe and Michael Maione and from Jim McCall in the Cal Ripken League.
The awards dinner is funded through the money raised through the leagues' annual car washes, candy sales, the Night of Fun and the concession stand at the fields, as well as donations from the mayor and township council, as well as the Weehawken and You Civic Association.
"It's really a great group effort," Strandberg said. "The Elks lets us use the facility at no charge. There are a lot of people who volunteer their time. We're really gaining respect with our leagues throughout the county. Our All-Star teams are making more and more of an impact in the District tournaments. The kids usually stay together from the time they are nine until they're 15. This dinner shows the kids that their hard work is appreciated and what they do is worthwhile."
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org