By ANDREW GARDA
for Montclair Local
For years, the primary youth baseball leagues in Montclair were run by the town Office of Recreation and Cultural Affairs and the Montclair Baseball-Softball Club.
Now the two groups have made the move to link up with Little League Baseball Inc., the 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that runs Little League both nationally and worldwide.
For Morris Rockmaker, one of the people behind the move in coordination with Garland Thornton, who is the activities coordinator for the rec department, the move is the natural evolution of baseball in Montclair.
“In my view, we’re basically taking everything that was good about Montclair rec baseball and folding it into the international Little League organization, which brings specific resources like umpire training, safety training,” he said on a recent phone call.
“More importantly, [it brings] a fantastic culture of fundraising and community involvement, and that’s not to mention the famous Little League tournaments, which will give our kids the chance to represent Montclair on the regional, state and national levels.”
Rockmaker said that the idea of joining the local league with the national Little League organization had been around for years.
“Every couple of years it’s come up and people have thought about it, and ‘Maybe we should do it,’” he said. ‘Yeah, we should do it.’ And then it kind of never [got] any momentum.”
About two years ago, though, Rockmaker and some others were sitting in Tierney’s and came to the decision that this time it would really happen.
“Sometimes it’s like, if you just sort of repeat something enough times to enough people, it just sort of starts feeling inevitable,” he said.
Thornton was happy to finally make it happen.
“Montclair LL was a collaborative idea between Montclair Recreation and the Montclair Baseball-Softball Club,” he said. “Joining Little League was a two-year discussion between the two programs in order to bring Little League to Montclair. Recreation decided to make the move to give our kids some national exposure of playing other townships on a recreation level.”
From the Montclair rec side, it was a combination of opportunity and numbers.
On the one hand, there has been some increase in club enrollment for baseball, but on the town side, the rec league had seen some decrease in numbers over the last few years. Thornton said they averaged around 110 kids signing up, which has limited some of the opportunity for the kids.
“Over the last four years Montclair rec and Glen Ridge have joined schedules to play against each other due to the low enrollment numbers that baseball has seen nationally over the past five years or so,” Thornton said.
Meanwhile, many other nearby towns had been joining up with Little League, so the town felt that in order to assure the kids got to play, they needed to make the move as well, he said.
Rockmaker said he feels that joining the national organization also will help attract athletes who might normally not be baseball players, but who want something to do in the spring and summer.
He feels that baseball is the sort of sport that doesn’t require a kid to be a superstar athlete in order to play. Unlike football, where size differences between middle schoolers can vary widely and therefore make it hard for a smaller or slower kid to play, in baseball size differences don’t matter as much, he said.
“Everybody gets their turn at bat,” he said. “And the size imbalance is much less important in baseball. I think that’s why the rec program has always been popular.”
Rec’s having history and being a fixture in town is a big help, Rockmaker added.
“We’re definitely looking to build off of a really nice solid foundation with the program that has run so well over the years,” he said.
Building on that requires attracting new kids to the sport, especially those who normally focus on other sports and either don’t do anything in spring or don’t want to pay potentially large club or travel fees.
“We are welcoming basketball players, football players, soccer players [who] have never really given baseball a try, or did T-ball and kind of, you know, haven’t played since then,” Rockmaker said.
Thornton said that Montclair Little League registration, which is already open, will run through the Recreation Department at communitypass.net/montclair, and the department will handle the fields, umpires and schedules. Rockmaker said people with questions can also reach out via email to MontclairLLbaseball@gmail.com.
Meanwhile, members of the Montclair Baseball-Softball Club will help to organize the league with coaching and team placement as well as help with solicitation.
Rockmaker said they are also looking to try and keep costs for kids down. The rec department has always had scholarships, he said, but he wants it to be affordable regardless of that availability. So the fundraising portion of joining Little League is going to be a big part of the effort as well.
Montclair Little League baseball is open to boys and girls in grades 3 to 6 only, and they welcome first-time players as well as those with experience; participants don’t need to have ever picked up a bat before.
Players are required to purchase their own gloves, batting helmets and cleats, though wearing sneakers is OK, Thornton said. Uniforms will be supplied.
The league is in need of volunteer coaches and, as with registration, interested parties can call the Recreation Department office at 973-509-4915 during business hours, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday.