Saturday’s opening day of the Lower Township Little League is sure to bring back memories.  It marks the 69th year for Little League baseball in the area.  Softball is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Both organizations hold a special place in my sports and family memories.

Youth Baseball in Lower Township got its start in Cape May in 1955, when founder George Feitz, Charles Hickman Sr., and other community leaders formed the Greater Cape May Little League.

Although my gray and disappearing hair would suggest otherwise, I was not one of the original players. I joined the league in 1967, when Volunteer Fireman manager Charlie Young drafted a 9-year-old, left-handed, third-grader with a lot of room for improvement.

Games were played at the ballfield on Lafayette Street, located next to Cape May City Elementary School.  Getting there meant putting on my itchy, baggy, uniform with the red No. 7 on the back, slipping my glove over the handlebars of my Schwinn Stingray, and pedaling a mile to the complex.

Opening Day was a huge affair in town. All six teams – Bank, Chamber, Firemen, Kiwanis, Legion and Rotary -  marched along the beachfront before heading to the field for a triple-header.

To commemorate the day, my dad decided to take some action photos of me in the backyard. I posed with my bat, then attempted to catch a few fly balls, all of which landed on the grass instead of my glove.

I got one hit my first season. It came against Chamber, which featured star catcher and neighborhood pal Garry Gilbert. The jingle, “Chamber won, Garry hit a home run” was extremely popular on Maryland Avenue.

My first 15 at-bats ended one of two ways: I trotted down to first base with a walk or walked back to the dugout after hearing umpire Mr. (Adrian) Capehart bellow “Steeerike Threee!” in my ear.

The lone exception came in that game against Chamber, when I close my eyes, swung, and felt the bat vibrate while teammates yelled for me to run.  After the game, I asked my dad where the ball had gone and he replied, “it was a line drive over second base.”

Twenty-seven years after my debut, I was back at that field.  My 9-year-old son, Kyle, was in his first season with Cecil B. Design, one of 20 teams in the Lower Cape May Little League.

He had excelled at the entry levels of the league, but had a bit of trouble adjusting to fastballs thrown by 12-year-olds. Near the end of the season, he made contact, sprinted to first base and asked me where the ball had gone.

“It was a line drive over second base,” I said.

At the same time, my 11-year-old daughter, Ashley, was beginning her softball career with the expansion VFW Women’s Auxiliary Babes in the league, which also included the Central Pharmacy Dolphins, Dellas Angels, National Associates, Sudak Swingers and Washington Inn Waves.

I was her manager.  Thirteen of the 15 players were new to the game. The roster was comprised mainly of Ashley’s friends, plus a few players who had impressed me during tryouts.

We went 0-15 that first season but had loads of fun. Players rooted for their teammates during every at-bat. Each pitch featured a chant, “We want a single, just a little single. S-I-N-G-L-E, single, single, single!”

And so on and so forth.

Windmill pitching had not yet made its way to Exit Zero, so games featured a lot of walks and hits with very few strikeouts. Despite her lack of experience, Ashley proved to be a powerful hitter almost from the get-go.  Her hits really were line drives over second base.

Our first win came the next year at that same field on Lafayette Street where I first played the game. Afterward, as we celebrated a victory over Washington Inn, the parents surprised me with a gift certificate to that restaurant, which is one of the finest in South Jersey.

My first thought was I was glad we didn’t beat Sudak.  That’s a funeral home.

Thirty years have passed. Kyle is a partner in a law firm in Avalon and is about to turn 39. Ashley is a kindergarten teacher in Lower Township and just turned 41.

The Lafayette Street field, eventually named Dellas Field, is no longer there. It fell into disrepair and was torn down a couple of years ago. Baseball and softball have lost kids to lacrosse, spring soccer, and other activities.

But come Saturday, I’ll be in the bleachers behind Carl T. Mitnick School in Lower Township, watching my 8-year-old grandson, Hampton, play in the Machine-Pitch league at Lower Township.

Here’s hoping his first hit is a line drive over second base.

CFFC hosting top card Friday

Vineland-based Caged Fury Fighting Championships will be bringing a loaded card to Hard Rock Hotel and Casino Friday night.

CFFC 131 will feature two title fights. CFFC heavyweight champion Greg Velasco (6-1)  will defend his belt against Bailey Schoenfelder (4-0). Morquez Forest (4-0) will take on Robert Varricchio (5-0) for the interim lightweight title.

The undercard features C.J. LaFragola, a former three-sport start at St. Joseph of Hammonton, who wrestled for Brown University and played football and basegball for Sacred Heart University in Connecticut. LaFragola (2-1) will fight Kevin Pease (4-0).

Local boxers set to return to the ring

Three local professional boxers are scheduled to be in action over the next few months.

Boxing returns to Tropicana Atlantic City for the first time in seven years on May 11 with a card that will include junior-middleweight Justin Figueroa (8-0, 6 KOs). Figueroa, a Holy Spirit High School grad, earned a six-round, unanimous decision over Salt Lake City’s Christian Aguirre (8-11, 4 KOs) in San Antonio, Texas on March 30. It will be the first show at the Trop since June 30, 2017.

On June 8, Millville middleweight Thomas LaManna (37-5-1, 10 KOs), who is ranked fourth by the World Boxing Association, will be fighting at Bally’s Atlantic City against Juan Carlos Abreu (26-7-1, 24 KO), from the Dominican Republic.  Somers Point lightweight Miguel Garcia (3-0, 0 KOs) will take on Maple Shade’s Justin Palmieri (1-0, 0 KOs) on the card.

A Wonderful Visit Back to 1965 Atlantic City Boardwalk

Gallery Credit: Eddie Davis

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