Imagine a local little league team with three pitchers who would go on to play in the major leagues. 

Not an All-Star team but rather one of many teams playing during the spring in front of family and friends.  Mark Leiter spent 11 seasons in the major leagues but at age 51 he still has fond memories of his days playing in the Berkeley Township Little League.  His Braves team also included younger brother Al and Jeff Musselman. All three would later star at nearby Central Regional High School and of course Al would go on to pitch for 19 big-league seasons and Musselman spent 5 years in the majors before injuries ended his career.

But let me take you back to the mid 70’s when they played for the Berkeley Braves, who went 17-1 during the season but did not win the league championship.  That’s because the Giants also went 17-1 and then beat the Braves in a one-game playoff to claim the title.

Mark Letier told that story last night to the Little League players, families and guests who gathered inside the spacious indoor complex at the Berkeley Township Little League which is hosting the Joe Graziano New Jersey State Championships this week. The welcome banquet also featured Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno and Tom Swyers, the author of “Saving Babe Ruth”, an enjoyable novel which I read last week while on vacation.

The stars last night and this week will be the 12-year olds from the Toms River Little League, Somerset Hills, Wood-Ridge/Moonachie and Upper Township/Ocean City.  Those are the four teams competing for the state title and the right to represent New Jersey in the Mid-Atlantic Regional and hopefully later in August the Little League World Series in Williamsport.

Four teams from New Jersey have won it all, including the 1975 Lakewood All-Stars and the 1998 Toms River East American team led by current Reds All-Star Todd Frazier.

Play begins today in Bayville in the double-elimination tournament with Somerset Hills to face Upper Township before Toms River battles Wood Ridge at 7:30.  Meanwhile on nearby Leiter Field Toms River East begins its quest for the Junior League Championship when they play Elizabethport at 5pm. The juniors are an age group up from the 12-year olds, and one of 11 tournaments being run by Little League baseball.

Kudos to Berkeley Little League President Bob Everett and the other hard-working volunteers for all the time and effort they have put in so far with much more to come in the days ahead.