By Maryanne Saxon
There is no room in baseball for discrimination. It is our national pastime and game for all.~Lou Gehrig
The Morris County Challenger League (MCCLL) has known this truth for years. With a motto of “whatever it takes to play,” the league’s inspirational coaching staff and creative rulebook enable players of all ages and special needs to participate in the national game.
Traveling to a different Morris County town each week, the MCCLL has more than 100 athletes, ranging from ages 6-20. Last Sunday, the Challengers took to the ballfields at Ginty in Morris Township.
The first game of the day paired players from the Morristown Area American Little League’s AAA division with the younger Challenger players. The 4 pm game pitted the Little League’s Major and 50/70 players vs Challenger Major Leaguers.
Between the two leagues, 200 players played ball.
MCCLL’s rulebook tweaks make for exciting, fast-paced baseball. Every fourth hit promises a home run, and with multiple balls in play on the field, infielders and outfielders get plenty of action. No sore losers in the league either– every game ends in a tie.
This is MCCLL’s 16th season. Founded by Ruben Fuentes, the league is a county-wide charter and invites any child over age 6 to play. “We take all we can,” stated MCCLL League President Michael Bertram.
Bertram has been president for six years. For him, baseball is a family affair. Bertram’s wife, Stephanie, is a coach for the Pirates and their 20-year old-daughter, also named Stephanie, is a player for the Pirates.
Sheri, mom to Daniel, an 8-year-old Pirate with special needs, could not say enough wonderful things about the Challenger league. “ I am so grateful for this opportunity,” she said, her eyes filled with tears.
“Coach Thom Butler and Mike Bertram, all these guys involved, are connected and engaged with the players and really care about these kids. It’s hard to find the words to explain what it feels like to watch my son play baseball and hear his name announced as he rounds the bases.”
At first glance, MCCLL and MAALL’s differences are somewhat obvious. Ages, abilities and the rules of the game vary depending on which league you play for. One thing is certain: No matter what, baseball just ain’t baseball without a hot dog after the game!
All players from the 2015 Challenger Games celebrated the day with a free hotdog and soda donated by the MAALL. No better way to end a good game.