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Little league craze stays in Bellmore-Merrick

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Spring may stir up feelings of new beginnings and warmer weather for some, but many Bellmore-Merrick residents associate the season with one thing: Little League.

“North Bellmore and Bellmore are huge baseball [hamlets],” North

Bellmore North Merrick Little League president Craig Kute said. “The tightest-knit groups of kids know each other from baseball.”

The Covid-19 pandemic threw a curveball into the typical spring baseball season last year, and local leagues were forced to wait until July 2020 to resume the game. The season started back up last week, and despite the new normal, some leagues have seen a spike in player enrollment.

This season, nearly 700 children will play with the North Bellmore North Merrick Little League team and about 900 kids will compete with the Merrick Bellmore league.

Kute said that’s an increase of about 100 registrations in the north league since last year. He believes the hike is because baseball is naturally a safer sport – compared to high-risk sports, like wrestling or football.

“I think with baseball, you can still play together without playing on top of each other,” Kute, of North Bellmore, said.

“Over the past few years, I think, the momentum for Little League has risen,” Nick Ippoliti, president of the Merrick Bellmore Little League, said. “Out here, it’s a pretty competitive league – it’s just good, quality baseball from age 7 and up.”

Since July, both leagues have followed New York State and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Coaches and players in the dugout wear masks. The Bellmore Merrick league has implemented a symptom tracker app for parents to use prior to practices and games, while the north league has limited the number of maximum players gathered in the dugout.

The start of the Little League season is no game in North Bellmore and North Merrick: in years past, team members have paraded down Jerusalem Avenue, headed to Gunther Field in North Bellmore, Kute said. Community members and players’ parents would line the streets, waving and cheering at the players.

Although the community parade has been canceled, Kute said he hopes the summer will offer an opportunity to host the activities.

Zach Goldstein of Merrick, founder of Pro Diamond Baseball who works closely with both local leagues, said the continued enrollment could be because baseball and softball are safe sports.

“It’s a game where, especially in our Covid times, you’re able to maintain social distance,” Goldstein said. “It’s like one of the only sports where you’re naturally socially distanced.”

The local leagues, which typically welcome boys and girls ages 4 to 12, can help reduce anxiety for students by helping them form social relationships prior to their entry to middle school, Kute said.

“With Bellmore Merrick, you have two communities that all feed into Grand Avenue [Middle School], and that’s a big transition for kids,” Kute said. “If it wasn’t for baseball, they would only know their small group of friends that they have in school, they may not even know kids from the surrounding area. It kind of expands their horizons.”

Goldstein, who played professionally with the Long Island Ducks and is currently working in an elementary school to receive his Master’s Degree in Physical Education from Adelphi University, said Little League serves as a health distraction for children from the current circumstances.

“I think sports are a great way to bring normalcy back. When you’re playing or watching a sport, you don’t worry about what’s going on in the real world,” Goldstein said. “You’re just focused on the game. For these kids, this is an opportunity to relax and play with their friends.”

This summer, Pro Diamond Baseball will host a series of half-day summer camp programs throughout July for kids ages 7 to 12 years old.