BELLEVILLE, NJ — Belleville will kick off its Hispanic Heritage Month celebration with a spirited softball doubleheader against a team from Puerto Rico. A team comprising members of the Belleville Police Department and honorary member/slugger Mayor Michael Melham will play the scrappy Puerto Rico Joint Forces of Rapid Action team on Thursday, Sept. 15.
Board of Education President Luis Muñiz and Councilwoman Naomy DePeña will throw out the first pitches at Number 8 School’s Clearman Field at 183 Union Ave. at 6 p.m.
There will also be a DJ, and members of the public are invited to come enjoy the celebration, which is being hosted by Belleville Township, the Belleville School District and the Mayor Michael Melham Civic Association.
Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, is a time to recognize the contributions and achievements of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South Americas.
“In a township where some 48 percent of our residents are Hispanic, it’s especially important to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month,” Melham said. “And what better way to do that than by playing a sport that is beloved by so many of our native countries.”
Police Chief Mark Minichini said the annual doubleheader can be traced back more than two decades. He said it took a short hiatus before returning last year, when the teams split a doubleheader in fierce, yet friendly competition.
The Belleville team will once again be led by Sgt. Juan Lisojo, who was an outfielder on the Rutgers University baseball team under legendary coach Fred Hill from 2009-12. Melham, too, is no slouch, playing baseball for Belleville High during the 1990s.
“We’re hoping for a sweep this year, but it will be tough,” Lisojo said. “They are very competitive and have some very good players. But we’ll be ready for ’em.”