ALAMEDA -- Alameda youth baseball currently consists of Little League, Babe Ruth, the World Tournament Team and perhaps some lesser-known independent programs. But youth baseball's roots on the Island run very deep, as the game flourished in city parks years before any of these entities formed.

Most specifically -- and a league still dearest to the hearts of generations of past players -- was the Alameda Recreation and Park Department T-shirt league that ran from the 1950s into the 1980s. The league received its name from the T-shirts issued to each player that identified the nickname of that player's "home" park. These included the Lincoln Lions, Krusi Colts, Godfrey Gophers, Washington Pirates and Longfellow Tigers.

This summer, some locals hope to revive that league -- at least on a limited scale. And on Thursday, the Alameda Theatre and Cineplex will host a "First Pitch Benefit Party" to raise funds for the league and to introduce it to the public.

For at least some residents, of course -- as well as numerous former residents who grew up in Alameda -- the T-shirt league needs no introduction.

"If you think back to the day, it was only 50 cents for a T-shirt, and if the family couldn't afford the T-shirt, they just gave them the T-shirt," said Kin Robles, a member of the revival effort's advisory committee and chairman of public relations. "It goes back to the original concept. Not all the kids are served by the existing programs. The costs are reasonable, but they're still pricing some people out."


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Today's prospective players might learn a lot about the proposed league while gaining a historical insight into its predecessor at the Alameda Theatre event. Older generations will have plenty to reminisce about, especially with the screening of "Play Ball," a documentary film made a decade ago by Robles that celebrates the T-shirt league as it was in its heyday.

"There still is a community for whom it resonates about being a Lincoln Lion or Rittler Wildcat," said Robles, who played for the Franklin Eagles in his youth.

"Play Ball" takes its name from the weekly section about the league that ran in the Alameda Times-Star during the summer season. Long a proponent of the T-shirt league, Robles also has a popular blog, http://playball94501.wordpress.com, that still strikes a chord today.

"The (revived) league appeals to ARPD because it gives the opportunity to promote recreational sports, participation, sportsmanship, and above all, playing for the fun of it," said ARPD recreation supervisor Patrick Russi, himself a former Rittler Wildcat and Franklin Eagle, who later became a coach and umpire in the league.

"ARPD is a big supporter of the 'Let's Move' initiative, and getting youth out to play more often during the summer is key to promoting healthy lifestyle choices."

For sure, the old league lived in the hearts of City Auditor Kevin Kearney and City Treasurer Kevin Kennedy, who had long advocated its return. Kearney and Kennedy helped spearhead the revival effort along with Robles, Alameda Theatre owner Kyle Conner, Adrienne Chaix, Cindi LaCroix and former Encinal High Principal Bill Sonneman.

Kearney, Kennedy and company also reached out to former Alameda High and Stanford football star Eric Cross, and to Lil Arnerich, who nurtured the old league's booming popularity after getting hired by the ARPD in 1953 (he retired in 1986) and now acts in an advisory role.

"I always felt that no child should ever have to go out for a team at the park and go home and say he didn't make the team," Arnerich said. "Nothing is more devastating to a youngster than being cut at 7-8 years old."

Added Robles of the old league, "Games were during the week, during the day, which removed parental pressure. This is especially true of travel ball. You're going to lose kids by sixth grade."

The Alameda Elks Lodge already has stepped up as a sponsor for the revived league, which will have teams representing Tillman, Franklin, Bayport, Washington and Lincoln parks. Players will have T-shirts, equipment and supervision provided free of charge.

For many, youth baseball's more competitive levels serve a great purpose. But for others, such organizations as the ARPD T-shirt league fill a gaping void.

FYI
Admission to the "First Pitch Benefit Party" is $50 for VIPs (limited seating, starting at 6 p.m. and $10 general (starting at 7 p.m.). Tickets are available at the Alameda Theatre box office or online at www.AlamedaTheatres.com.