This article originally ran April 27, 2009 on nj.com.
A 30-year tradition in Newark's North Ward that brings families together for the official start of the Little League baseball season kicked off Saturday with a parade and opening day ceremonies at Branch Brook Park.
Carrying red, white and blue balloons and dressed in their team uniforms, more than 500 boys and girls from the North Ward Center's Little League were joined by parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters as they marched down Mount Prospect and Bloomfield avenues toward the county park's Middle Division Complex.
Teams from the Roberto Clemente Little League joined the parade at Second Avenue. Both leagues have marched together in a spirit of cooperation on opening day for the last three decades.
"The continuous growth of our two sister leagues is due to the support, cooperation and dedication of all the volunteers on a daily basis," said Gerard Marchese, the president of the North Ward Center Little League. "Our children are our greatest treasure. That's why we dedicate many hours helping build character in our youth by teaching the value of teamwork and discipline."
A truck from Newark Fire Department Engine Co. No. 9 and the Batmobile led the parade. Spectators lining the parade route cheered for children and motorists driving past honked their horns and waved. As children entered the park, they were greeted by Batman.
"This is a great day for the children of Newark," said Michele Adubato, the deputy executive director of the North Ward Center, who walked the parade route with the children. "We are proud to support the Little League because it brings the community together. This is what's it's all about."
During opening ceremonies, two professional baseball players who got their start playing in the North Ward Center and Roberto Clemente leagues were honored.
Hector Santiago, 21, a pitcher for the Kannapolis Intimidators, the Class A affiliate of the Chicago White Sox, and Burt Reynolds, 20, a third baseman for the Princeton Rays, the Appalachian League Rookie affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, both played for the Roberto Clemente Little League and the North Ward Center's all-star team.
"Hector and Burt are examples of two kids who were dedicated, worked hard and achieved their dreams," said Rashard Casey, the vice president of the North Ward Center's Little League and director of the center's Youth Development program. "We want to start honoring our kids who come up through the system."
State Sen. Teresa Ruiz, who sponsored three teams, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Ruiz said she has participated in the leagues for years as a spectator, a volunteer and now a team sponsor.
"This is not about winning," Ruiz said. "It's about building skills, meeting new people, putting in the effort and dedication. It's about bringing the community together in a positive activity. You see that here today."
The North Ward Center Little League was founded in 1978 by Stephen N. Adubato Sr., the founder of the North Ward Center, LeRoy "The Doc" Smith, Anthony Burke and Joseph DiVincenzo, then the director of recreation for the North Ward Center who is now the Essex County executive.
This season, the North Ward Center league will serve nearly 500 boys and girls between the ages of 8 through 15 on 28 teams in six divisions.