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Elmora Little League has grown under Abbate since 1999

By CHRIS MASSE

For The Express

Ralph Abbate usually starts slowing down when mid-August hits. The long-time Elmora Youth Little League board member has immersed himself in the league over the last three decades, serving as league president and now treasurer while running an informative web page and helping in just about every other area one can think of.

This August Abbate is much busier, but he does not mind. He and everyone associated with the league are living a dream. Abbate was president when what had been the Elmora Baseball League in Elizabeth, New Jersey joined Little League in 1999. He has watched this team go from humble beginnings to reaching the Little League World Series this summer. And oh how far this league has come.

“I put so much time into the league during the season and when it comes to Little League World Series time, it’s usually rest time but now that our team is in it I can gladly postpone rest time,” Abbate said. “When we chartered in 1999 we were talking about going to the Little League World Series just to go see it and now 20 years later we’re coming and playing in it. It’s incredible.”

The Elmora Baseball League was founded in 1974 and provided Elizabeth a good baseball and community outlet. There were many who encouraged Elmora to avoid Little League when that topic came up in the ensuing years. Things started changing, however, when Toms River, New Jersey captured the 1998 Little League World Series championship. Abatte and others looked into joining Little League and Elmora was chartered a year later.

Still, obstacles remained. Not everyone was dedicated to forming all-star teams and making the new Little League stronger. Abbate became president and that provided a turning point as things grew more organized. Even if on the field, the teams did not experience great success.

“There were people who thought it was a waste of time and didn’t want to form these all-star teams. They were kind of making it difficult and we were bumping heads constantly,” Abbate said. “We were horrible at first. It was one of those things where the other towns were more established. But over time it kept getting better and look at this … oh my gosh, we’re in the Little League World Series. There we’re people saying that we shouldn’t join Little League and that we were not good.

“I wonder what they’re saying now.”

Gradually, the league started progressing and seeing better on the field results. A highlight was reached in 2003 when the Junior Division all-stars captured the league’s first district championship. The 11-year olds won districts five years later, but things really started booming when this current group came together. Most of these players were competing together as 7-year olds and were named “Troopers” in honor of the late New Jersey state trooper Thomas J. Hanratty who grew up playing in the Elmora Baseball League. The Troopers kept jelling and improving each year and captured the Mid-Atlantic 10-year old championship two years ago.

When that happened, the Little League World Series did not just seem like some far-fetched dream. It became something tangible, something real and the Troopers vigoursly attacked that goal. They then turned it into reality, winning four consecutive elimination games and battering undefeated New York, 19-4 in the final. Everything that has helped this league rise from the ashes was evident that night in Bristol as Elmora played its best game, bus loads of fans cheered them on and a community celebrated together.

“It’s amazing because Ralph was the one who started the league and like anything it takes time. It’s a process. After many years of trying to get better and following those Little League rules and just trying to do the right thing, it pays off,” Elmora Youth Little League president Manny Medina said. “The time everybody puts in and seeing what they have accomplished, not just for the league, but for the entire city of Elizabeth is remarkable.”

“It starts with our board. We have more than 20 members who work their butts off. Just like any strong Little League, for it to survive and do something like this, it has to have a strong board and a supportive community and we have it all in Elizabeth,” Elmora manager Jairo Labrador said. “We have some great people, from the city government to the teachers, the police offers and firemen who are helping us and they all have played a role in this. It makes me so proud to live there and grow up there and do something like this for the city we love so much and that has been such a big part of mine and all the coaches’s and players’ lives.”

What this team is doing for its league and Elizabeth will continue helping when this season ends. Reaching the Little League World Series and doing it the way these Mid-Atlantic champions have serves as incentive for Elizabeth’s younger, aspiring baseball players. What once seemed impossible when Elmora joined Little League has become reality. This likely will encourage future Troopers to dream just as big, if not bigger.

For now, all of Elmora Youth Little League’s dreams are coming true.

“We are forever grateful to Ralph Abatte for chartering us into Little League and making this possible. That we can accomplish something like this in such short time, where a lot of leagues have been going a lot longer and have not gotten here, just goes to sure how committed the community is to these kids,” Labrador said. “The coaches we’ve had in the past that of got this going. We saw them and the boys wanted to be Troopers and they became Troopers and hopefully they are inspiring these younger Troopers. It’s surreal. It’s pretty awesome.”

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