Behind the Plate, to behind the desk.
With 20 straight years of calling balls and strike and occasionally ejecting some coaches and some parents, Dave Marte has emerged out of the umpiring role into a much bigger roll, “President.” The Chief Umpire has made Indiana Harbor Little League his empire and many can say that they are quite happy with his ruling of the facilities and current status as president. Marte has been apart of the East Chicago Little Leagues for over 18 years and does not look to be going anywhere soon. With many new opportunities being supplied for the youth today by the improvements from facilities to the individuals who put in the extra hours behind the scenes to make everything possible, the Kenny Lofton Complex in the Harbor side of East Chicago is now being looked at as the most attractive “All-Star” site for minors and majors. Located in the Prairie Park section of beautiful East Chicago, this complex has drawn attention to players and families from Griffith, Highland, Scheriville, Merrillville, and even Crown Point, and the numbers continue to grow.
The Man behind the mask
Dave Marte wouldn’t had thought in all his years of umpiring that he would be the guy that many would turn to, for bringing a program that was losing its ground back to its feet. The rather new newly weds Dave Marte and his wife Kathy, have joined together to support each other and be there for one another. You can say it began soon after they were married in East Chicago’s very own Block Stadium. Yes the two were announced husband and wife in the historic minor league stadium that still stands next to the Little League fields. “We have each other’s back and that is how I like to build my relationships around people I meet. We know and understand each other, she knows that I have a huge commitment to the Little League and that it is basically part of my family so she shows her support being here, day in and day out not only for me, but for this whole city because the heart and soul is in this little league and citizens of East Chicago should not forget that.”
According to Marte he has seen the Little League shrink from averaging 400 kids to an all time low 200 and says he can understand why. “The economy is obviously not helping, and families do not have extra money to sign up one child, let alone a family who has 2 or 3 children. We strive to help families with payments and make certain deals but in the long run it usually never ends up the way they wanted it. It’s a struggle right now but with people like Tony Serna, Mario and Maria Gomez, my wife, George Ontivaros, myself, and others that are here when they can be, we have total faith that the numbers will go up and the Indiana Harbor Little League will remain being one of the most prestigious baseball programs around.”
I have learned to handle and deal with parents and I can go ahead and say that I have a great relationship with most of the parents of the players here at I.H.L.L. They know and remember me as an umpire and now they see me trying to run a whole league so they respect that and I respect them.” The relationship is so good here in the Harbor that Dave and his crew took the time to send Christmas cards to the families around the league. “I try to reach out to the parents as much as possible because they are the coaches basically, some fathers grow with their children as they coach them and it builds such a great relationship. If more parents would step in to help once in a while, you have no idea how much help that would give myself and the rest of the committee here. There are some parents who give me hell but in the end you have to learn to deal with it and give them what they want. If this means making yourself more available for them, then so be it.”
Out with the old and in with the new. Dave and his right hand man Tony Serna are currently under the process of beginning the first Babe Ruth League in East Chicago. The Babe Ruth League is a bit different than the Little League but gives players an advantage to learn the game and the beginning process of exposing their talents to other teams, coaches, and even scouts for their baseball career throughout High School. “Lately we have seen a huge decrease in our numbers for our older groups (Juniors and Seniors) so we have turned to Babe Ruth, which allows us to take the kids from Little League and begin teaching them the rules of High School ball,” said Dave. “Babe Ruth initially is the best way to prepare a young ball player, and we feel that this could be our learning stages for the players that will be attending East Chicago Central High School in their future and this way they are ready for better competition when they face bigger and better schools.”
“We try to make everything happen for the kids and they are and will always be our number priority why we stay and continue working hard. Our Tee Ball field was finally turned into an actual baseball diamond so the kids could feel part of an actual game, and it works. We recently just hosted our first ever “Under the Lights Tee Ball Game” in which the Tee ball players were able to play at night on the big field as the coaches pitched to them but yet still instructed them the rules and regulations of the next level experience.”
With the city being forced to cut work off from city workers, we were left short-handed with field maintenance but players, coaches, the committee, and myself always made sure our fields were in playable conditions and because of that we have high schools during their seasons scheduling games in our senior league field. We have had Bishop Noll, E.C. Central, and Portage teams request for our field. To us that is a great feeling and for our city as well. It shows that East Chicago is not what everyone thinks it is and for us to be apart of that is amazing.”
“I do not know how much I have left in the tank but I enjoy what I do and would like to see more involvement from the youth. We have had some good ball players come out of here and some are college graduates, some even played college baseball for all four years, so if we could see them come and help the league out that could be inspiring for others to begin helping out as well. The young adults are the ones that these Little Leaguers relate to, because they see them not being much older than them and they say well if he said he can do it then I want to go out and play college or possibly even professional baseball.”
Dave Marte spoke on a incident he had when he was umpiring a few years back and said he would never forget it. “After a long day of umpiring so many games, I was ready to leave but there was one more game being hosted at night, and the umpire was running late, so the game was being delayed and of course I was the only one there but I was already on my way ready to my car. But as I was packing up a little league player from one of the games I was umping came up to me and asked if I was leaving and before I could even say anything, he said because don’t leave, your the only one I had fun with.”
As Dave laughed after his story I knew that he had something that most people do not have these days and that is a good heart. Stories like those inspire Dave Marte to do all the work he does around the Little League and it is because of people like him that small successful youth programs are still active and continue to succeed.