ALAMEDA -- Alameda families of years past greeted the arrival of the Alameda Times-Star's weekly Play Ball section with great anticipation.
Published Mondays in the summer, Play Ball recapped the previous week's action of the Alameda Recreation and Park Department's T-shirt baseball league.
At its height, the league enjoyed immense popularity. Kids played baseball free of charge (except for the 50-cent T-shirt). They enjoyed swapping stories, too. Through the years, the league served scores of youth across the island before fading away in the 1980s.
This year, though, the ARPD T-shirt league no longer will be just a ghost of the past. Revived in five of the city's parks this summer, the updated league will provide teams for players in grades K-2 and three through five. Practices begin Tuesday with the opening games Thursday.
The league's revival fulfills the vision of many in the community. But even the league's biggest proponents never envisioned the initial response it has received. Originally slated to fill 150 slots, the league has welcomed some 335 sign-ups.
"Having twice as many kids means we have twice as much equipment to buy," said City Treasurer Kevin Kennedy, who along with City Auditor Kevin Kearney, helped lead the T-shirt league revival effort.
On the plus side, the league's steering committee finds itself financially able to handle the extra demand.
"Thanks to our fundraising, we raised about $16,000 -- about double what we expected, which was good," Kennedy said.
"We have all of the gear ready and were able to purchase it for $1,000 less than the budget," ARPD Director Amy Wooldridge added.
On the other hand, the ARPD faces increased staffing costs, having added three people specific to the league.
"This is an exciting and valuable program that is absolutely worth the extra funding and effort," Wooldridge said. "I am thrilled that the numbers of interested youth far exceeds our initial expectations."
To help fill gaps, the ARPD hopes to recruit teen and adult volunteers to assist with coaching.
"We budgeted to cover the fingerprinting (costs for volunteers)," Kennedy said.
For this inaugural season, Bayport, Washington, Franklin, Lincoln and Tillman parks will have teams, though some expansion took place to handle all the sign-ups.
"We have 11 teams for (third- to fifth-grades) on the schedule," Wooldridge said. "The K-2 were never planned to have formal games. They'll have practice on Tuesdays and scrimmages on Thursdays, plus they will be cheerleaders and sideline assistants for the older kids' games."
As the 2014 season gets ready to start, organizers already look ahead to 2015.
"As for adding teams (at other parks), we've already started talking about that," Kennedy said. "But we're going to see how this year plays out. After the season's over and we've gotten the feedback from all the park directors, we're going to have a meeting. We want to do this in steps. Next year, there will be more kids who want to play."
Some in the community still might find it tempting to point to the establishment of Alameda Little League in 1980 as the beginning of the end for the old T-shirt league. In reality, though, the two entities have every reason to peacefully coexist.
For those not selected to the Little League's International Tournament squad (or "All Stars"), the T-shirt league fills a void and provides an opportunity to keep playing baseball in summer.
"I think this will be good for Little League," Kennedy said. "This might be a good introduction to baseball for the kids. Free recreational opportunities are few and far between these days."
For some, the T-shirt league also might benefit those with an interest in sports other than baseball.
"We also hope that participants in the Summer Recreational Baseball League will stay and participate in our free Parks and Playgrounds programs, which are available at each of the baseball league sites," Wooldridge said.
For those who participated in the old T-shirt league, the revived version surely will awaken happy memories.
"This free program is so unique in these economic times, and it holds a special place in the history of Alameda Recreation and Park," Wooldridge said. "I'm confident that our staff can handle the number of kids and that kids will get adequate playing time. There will always be growing pains with a new program and we'll continue to adjust as we go along."
Those interested in volunteering for the T-shirt baseball league should contact the Alameda Recreation and Park District at 510-747-PLAY or ARPD@alamedaca.gov.