May 04, 2012
By Scott P. Moore
Standard Staff Reporter
As the sunset on the baseball diamonds in North Woodmere Park, a young boy in an Athletics uniform stepped up to the plate, tapping his bat once on the pentagon-shaped home plate. His coach showed his the ball and threw it to him. The batter stepped, slightly, and slammed it, send the the tiny white ball soaring over the Mariners’ infield and dunked it into the outfield for a base hit. While the batter did not have the roaring crowd of a major league Oakland Athletics crowd behind him, the cheers from parents brought a smile across his face as he reached first base.
For almost 50 years, the Hewlett-Woodmere Little League has been bringing America’s pastime to life at The Five Towns’ local parks, teaching children about the sport, giving them a fun activity for after-school and potentially training the next Derek Jeter or Johan Santana for the majors.
“We really want to provide a positive baseball experience without stressing the competition,” said President Richard Kahn, who has been a part of the league since playing in the 1960’s. After umpiring for a while, Kahn assumed his current duties as president in 1994 and has been leading the league ever since. “We allow them all to play happily with the youths of their own age.”
The league has several different age levels in order to train younger children from simple fielding and hitting techniques all the way up to serious competition and preparation for middle school and high school-level teams. Their “Lower Grapefruit” division is a tee ball league for players that will be five years old by May 1st. In the “Upper Grapefruit” division, first grade players shift to having their coach pitch, albeit slowly, to them.
“It’s really about basics and getting them to have fun,” Kahn said.
The “Minor League” division contains players up to fifth grade and the players themselves pitch. The final portion of the league is its “Upper Division,” which contains its eldest players in sixth and seventh grade. The league trains its own umpires, mostly former players, instead of using outside squads to maintain a hometown feel.
A little over a decade ago, the Hewlett-Woodmere Little League was at its peak with somewhere over 1,000 children playing on over 50 teams in The Five Towns, including a girls’ division at one time. As the culture of the area changed, though, the league has also changed – and adapted. Kahn said the league had around 450 children playing in it on over 30 teams throughout its many levels. While the league in the past used to play on Fridays and Saturdays, it has made an effort to lessen the number of games played due to the religious observances of many of its players.
“Back then, we had so many players,” Kahn recalled. “We peaked in about 2000 with over 1,000 players at all the local parks.”
The league has also produced one major leaguer in its history – former New York Met pitcher Pete Falcone. Noted for a great arm, the lefty Falcone compiled a 70-90 record with 4.07 ERA over 10 major league seasons with the Mets, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals and San Francisco Giants. Falcone, who only played a few seasons in Hewlett, left baseball at the age of 30 after claiming he had enough of the road life.
With its spring season halfway through, Kahn said the league will be looking forward to its pickup games during the summer and, after that, its fall league. The summer league is available to anyone who wants to play from first grade to age 13 and helps players further develop their skills in a fun, less competitive environment than the regular season might be considered.
“It’s hard to organize with everyone going in so many directions here,” said Kahn. “But I really enjoy being with the people and seeing former little leaguers now as parents. I just love watching the kids enjoy themselves playing ball.”
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