NORWALK, Conn. – The Cranbury and Norwalk Cal Ripken baseball programs have played interleague games in recent years, and now they have decided to join forces in one league.
Cranbury will now be part of the Cal Ripken League and will play under that program’s rules. Cranbury, which started in 1960, had played under PONY rules. The new league will have a Cranbury and Norwalk division. Young ballplayers also have the option of participating in Norwalk Little League.
“We get along very well, and it makes sense to combine,’’ said Rich Clemens, president of Cranbury Baseball. “The days of having three separate leagues may be coming to an end. Our numbers warrant that conclusion.”
The Cal Ripken League has grown steadily over the past few years, league President Tony Schwartz said. Nearly 315 young players were in the program last summer, he said.
One addition to the new league will be a summer program. The spring season ends in early June. A wood-bat league for players who do not make all-star teams but want to continue playing will now have a chance to do so.
“It’s a terrific concept,’’ Schwartz said. “The criticism of a lot of youth leagues is that they are too focused on all-stars. Now we can do greater things for non-all-stars. They can have fun and work on their fundamentals.”
By increasing the talent pool, the leagues can also provide a better experience for the players.
"Now you’re looking at league with 500-plus kids,’’ Clemens said. “You can do more things for them. In the Cranbury 11-12 division, we had 40 kids on four teams. You’re scraping all the time to get players. Now we’ll have eight teams of 13. ... And financially it makes sense. With 500 kids playing, we’ll be able to do more with upkeep of the fields, fixing the mound, batting cages and winter instruction.”
One important component for Cranbury officials was to keep the name. The league has a rich history in Norwalk and has produced several professional players such as Mo Vaughn and Glenn Katz.
“Were mindful of the fact that we have a legacy,’’ Clemens said. “But where are we today, and where will we be tomorrow? We don’t want a situation where you have three teams in a division scrapping for games. That could’ve happened.”
Cranbury will have four seats on the league’s new 11-member board. Schwartz will retain the presidency.
“The most stressful time for any league is the first few months when the signups are occurring,’’ he said. “You’re always wondering if you’re going to get the numbers you need. There’s a certain amount of comfort now that we have a bigger league. Now it’s up to us. We have to deliver a program that’s top notch, that is worthy of people coming to us."