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April 1, 2009 > Union City Little League celebrates 50th anniversary

Union City Little League celebrates 50th anniversary

By Simon Wong

Union City National Little League, for youngsters aged 4-18, held a 50th Anniversary Opening Day Parade from New Haven Adult School to James Logan High School on Saturday, March 21. Marking the start of the season, it is the Little League's first big parade since 2004.

Union City police and fire departments provided an escort using a blazing-red fire truck of yesteryear, complete with wailing siren, for the occasion.

As dawn broke, the procession moved forward with rallying cries from each team whose members proudly sported their colors. The youngest voices were heard first. Coaches and team staff corralled the very young and encouraged them along the route which was lined with well-wishers.

On arrival at James Logan, friends and family were treated to a special opening ceremony: Guests included those who played key roles in the city's little league, founded in 1959, were remembered and honoured; a moment's silence was observed in memory of Peter Mendoza who was killed in action in Vietnam. Logan's sports complex bears Mendoza's name; and past and present managers, coaches and players were acknowledged individually.

The Senior Division's Colts won the 2008 California District 45 TOC Championship. In order to do so, the Colts had to defeat a solid San Leandro team in the championship round twice, since they had a previous loss in the tournament. Coach Eli Ramirez reflected on the successful run in 2008.

"Last year, competition in the Senior Division was tough," said Ramirez. "When the season started, my boys said they were going to win and followed through, which made me very happy ... I'm very proud of them. It's one thing to talk, another to accomplish goals."

Ramirez also believes that Union City Little League is more than just playing baseball; it's a maturing experience for all involved.

"In this age group (15-16), we hope we can give them some guidance in addition to the baseball," Ramirez said. "When they play, we ask that they be respectful and focused; we reward them by allowing them to play. They understand it's a privilege."

Little League is a chance for youngsters to show off their skills. Union City used to have a semi-pro team and many people hope there will be one in the future so that players can continue baseball after they turn 18.

"In 1959, when it was suggested that the city form a little league team, little league was unknown in Union City," said Jess Martinez. "Once we understood the program and its aims, I thought I'd volunteer for a couple of years."

Martinez is still involved 50 years later. Currently, Union City has about 35 little league teams. But Jess Martinez remembers the growth of the league.

"Initially, we had three or four teams; it grew rapidly as we expanded into higher and lower divisions," Jess Martinez went on. "Seeing the boys grow up and become responsible citizens is rewarding. Many stay with the program and contribute to the community. Fifty years has been great."

Martinez managed the 1982 Senior All Star team, Union City's first baseball team to compete in the Western Regional Tournament in Hawaii.

"Coaches that help at Logan are often involved with Union City National. The little league and high school are strong because of the constant 'borrowing,' " said Jacob Perez, who played second base as a youngster for Martinez. "We start coaching 7 year olds; when they enter high school at 14, you continue to coach them in school, albeit another sport. Kids benefit from continuity. Jess Martinez taught us that years ago as a football and CYO basketball coach." Perez now coaches the little league's 8- to 11-year-old Reds, as well as wrestling.

A ceremonial first pitch to kick off the season by players from the past, present and future was applauded enthusiastically. The crowd expressed their thanks and appreciation to Michelle Matthews, Union City National Little League vice president of operations and player agent, and Newhaven Unified School District trustee for her service to the community. The opening ceremony was followed by a day full of games.

For more information on UCNLL, visit www.eteamz.com/ucnll; visit www.tricityvoice.com/sports for a photo slide show.

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