NAUGATUCK — There is something special about the sheer joy on the face of a child as he races around the baseball diamond, capturing the essence of America’s favorite pastime. An overflow crowd was on hand to help usher in the new baseball season at the Union City Little League complex Saturday, under bright, sunny skies.
As President John McSweeney introduced the players, by name, they ran in from the outfield, waving their caps to the cheering crowd. A host of dignitaries were on hand to help with the opening day festivities, including former major league ballplayer Candido ‘Candy’ Maldonato, who wished the youngsters well.
Maldonato began his 15-year major league career as a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers and played for the 1989 National League champion San Francisco Giants and the 1992 World Series champion Toronto Blue Jays. In 1990, the outfielder had a career year, batting .273 with 22 home runs and 95 RBIs.
The list of dignitaries helping to kick off the 61st Union City Little League season also included Naugatuck Mayor Bob Mezzo, who coaches one of the teams, Deputy Mayor Tamath Rossi, Naugatuck Housing Authority Executive Director Kevin Knowles, state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, District III Little League Director Wendell Stieber and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro.
McSweeney recognized with a moment of silence three Naugatuck residents who have passed away since last year’s opening day celebration: Frank Johnson, Harold Litke and Dustin Diver.
Former Union City Little League President Mike Bisson came on to pay tribute to Dustin Diver, a former Naugatuck High School baseball captain and City Hill Middle School custodian, who died unexpectedly at age 31.
“Dustin was everything that Little League stands for,” Bisson said. “He was an inspirational character. He was the spirit of Little League. Dustin went on to play and coach at Southern Connecticut State University. He enjoyed every minute he was on the baseball field.
“Baseball goes a lot further than winning and losing. It’s about the love of the game, and that’s what Dustin had, a love for the game.”
After Stephanie Chandler sang the national anthem, DeLauro addressed the crowd and the Little Leaguers, as they sat on the infield.
“To quote Yogi Berra, Little League was created to keep parents off the street,” DeLauro said, drawing laughter and applause from the audience.
The Union City Little League consists of tee ball, coaches’-pitch softball and baseball, minor league softball, AAA minor league baseball, junior softball, and major softball and baseball divisions. More than 350 kids participate in the program.
McSweeney cited the contributions of the many volunteers, including the board of directors, who give countless hours of their time to ensure the league’s continued success. Al Terry is one of those volunteers, working as the umpire-in-chief, and has been volunteering his time for more than 30 years.
Mezzo addressed the crowd and called baseball part of a special time in a child’s life. “These are the glory years,” he said. “These are the years that will help mold the character of these kids.”
A table to the left of the seated dignitaries held the trophies for the Union City Little League 9-10-year-old District III champions.
This marks the 27th season that UCLL has been at its current site, the Joe Joy Complex on Morris Street, behind City Hill Middle School. The league concluded its opening day ceremony with a double-header on Frank Raucci Field.