A Conversation with Lexington Little League’s President Ara Najarian
Ara Najarian is to be forgiven if he seems a little preoccupied with this weekend’s weather.
Now in his third and final year as president of Lexington Little League, Najarian knows all too well that a rainy forecast for Saturday will dampen not just the town’s fields and lawns but also the spirits of over 600 young Lexingtonians, ages 4 to 12, who will be primed to walk, mitts in hand, with police and fire department vehicular escorts, down Muzzey Street and through town center to the fields of Lexington High School as part of the 2023 Little League opening parade. “[The players] are all in uniform and they’re all ready to get going. It’s really a great day and really such a fun event,” Najarian enthuses.
“Historically we’ve done [the opening ceremonies] at the baseball field,” the league president says, “but this year we’re doing it at the football field with the stands just to give ourselves a little bit more room.” There will be guest speakers, an appearance from the high school baseball team, and a concession stand modeled after the pros. And like last year, players and their families can look forward to a few surprises that this reporter is under oath not to disclose.
Lexington boasts an especially large and well managed little league operation, with a board of about 20 adults overseeing approximately 40 AAA and AA baseball teams and 20 softball teams. Team names run the gamut, from the more traditional names for some – think Red Sox, Angels, Giants, Phillies and the like – to the more whimsical Bats, Ironbirds, Hotrods and Mud Cats for the triple A squads. “We try to be a little bit creative for the younger kids,” Najarian says, “to give them something fun to wear on their jerseys.”
“For the baseball side, you can be as young as four” Najarian explains. “For the softball side, it’s grade based, so they start in kindergarten.” Those who aren’t in kindergarten yet are encouraged to start playing on the baseball side when they’re four and five years old, and then switch over to softball once they’re in kindergarten. “We don’t have any boys that play softball,” Najarian adds, “but we have maybe a dozen or so girls who continue on the baseball side rather than switching over.”
While registration fees can seem daunting — anywhere from $200 to $250 — the league tries to keep it as low as possible thanks to support from their 27 sponsors (including the Red Sox Foundation) for the current season. “We make sure that cost is not a barrier to any child playing,” Najarian explains. “So we’ll work with families who reach out to us to ask for scholarships based on individual needs,” including military families at Hanscom.
The league also does what it can to make sure that players’ abilities are not an impediment to participation. “My predecessor and I both focused on making sure that we are running a program that is available to a wide spectrum of players. We want to make sure that we have a competitive program for those kids that really focus on it, as well as a program that is just fun and nurturing and a memory maker for other kids. I have such vivid memories of Little League when I was a kid (Watertown, MA – catcher and second baseman),” Najarian recalls, “and I just want to make sure we’re giving that same opportunity to the kids in our town.”
Najarian says that serving as president of such a large league has been a fair amount of work – coordinating the activities of the board to logistics for town permits and licenses, working with Little League International for the annual charter and insurance – and at times, it has felt like a long three years. “But it did seem to go by pretty quickly too,” he says in an upbeat tone. “It’s been fun.”
Hopefully, the league president will be as cheery come Saturday morning when he will be found driving around to all the playing fields to see what’s open and available. “If it’s light rain, kids generally don’t care. But if it’s any kind of heavy rain or, of course, if there’s any thunder or lightning, then we’ll cancel the event,” he adds with a sudden downturn in his tone.
If the current forecast — 80% chance of rain — is true to New England tradition, it may change at the last minute and end Najarian’s term on a sunny note.
Note: Eleven Massachusetts teams have participated in the Little League World Series, including the state’s most recent participant, Middleboro Little League in 2022. No Massachusetts team has ever won the Little League World Series. As they say in the pros, though, there’s always this year.