NORTHFIELD — This week Little League baseball in Northfield begins its season. There is something special about the start of the season. It’s a time of possibilities, when every player is a Mike Trout in-the-making as they step up to the plate and wait for the pitch. The connection of baseball and softball is not just about the players on the field, it extends to families that cheer from the bleachers and volunteer to help Northfield Little League as coaches, in the snack bar and doing upgrades to the fields and buildings, according to Little League President Jason Yard.
Take the Smith family: Brothers as well as artists and volunteers CJ and Tim Smith will soon put the finishing touches on the baseball equipment building where their uncle, Mike Bell, had painted a Northfield sports-themed mural more than a decade ago.
Bell, a talented artist who was living in Northfield and had kids playing baseball at the time said it took him two weeks of on and off painting to give the concrete block building that sits between baseball fields and the parking lot as you enter Birch Grove Park a personality. At the time the building housed equipment for soccer and football as well as baseball. The mural that Bell created paid homage to all the sports the city had to offer with a fierce-looking cardinal throwing a strike, scoring a goal and high-stepping into the end zone. Bell said he wanted to make a lighthearted mural that all ages could enjoy.
“My son played Little League through Babe Ruth at those fields and my daughter played softball. We were always at those fields. I cherish the memories of being at that field and watching my kids play organized sports,” said Bell.
With the building ready for a refreshed look, it was time to pass the torch to the next generation of artists. CJ and Tim Smith stepped up to lend their time and talent to the project. But long before the Smith brothers were artists and volunteers, they were kids growing up in Northfield and playing baseball for their hometown. Tim Smith took his baseball career further and played for Mainland Regional High School and Arcadia University. These days Tim Smith is a teacher in the Upper Township Elementary School and also an artist who specializes in painting sports and entertainment figures. CJ Smith is an electrician with Local 351 working at Jim Whelan Boardwalk Hall and the Convention Center. His real passion is graphic design and he has his own firm, SmithGraphix customizing in sports posters, sports photography, logo art and card design.
CJ Smith has three kids and they are all involved with baseball and softball in Northfield. Tim Smith just recently moved his family to Upper Township to be closer to work. The rest of the Smith family, the parents and two sisters, still call Northfield home.
Yard gave CJ Smith the red, white and blue color scheme and from there he designed the new logo that will be bold and visible from Burton Avenue. Smith also designed the Little League jerseys and their hats.
The first chore was to paint the building white to give it a fresh new look and a fresh canvas for the Smith brothers to complete their mural. Yard said the Sherwin Williams store on Tilton Road donated all the paint for the project. Jimmy Brady, owner of Galloway Painting LLC is providing the manpower to paint the building. With the white painting complete, the Smith brothers will be ready to add the Northfield Little League logo and name to the outside walls.
CJ Smith said, “When Jason (Yard) approached us with the project, I thought it would be a lot of fun. I had helped my Uncle Mike (Bell) paint a little part of it when he originally completed it and had a blast helping him. It is also fun for my kids see it and know their dad and their Uncle Tim designed that.”
But as much as painting and art are part of the Smith and Bell families, it is the sense of volunteering with the Northfield Little League that was important. Bell said, “I have a large family living in Atlantic County, with a long history of doing volunteer work: from coaching, donating artwork, helping needy families to playing Santa Claus. Volunteering your time can make a big impact on your community and make it a better place. Volunteering is a two-way street; it can benefit you and your family as much as the community. I am very proud of my family, and the work they have done.”
Both CJ and Tim Smith share that sense of community and the importance of volunteering. “Everyone wants the best for their children and their community. It is hard to get things done without people volunteering or lending a helping hand,” said CJ Smith.
“When we were growing up there were always people who found the time to volunteer in the community to help out. That’s one of the things that makes Northfield such a great town,” said Tim Smith. “We were happy to be asked to paint this building. Some of my best memories in my life were made on these baseball fields. I spent a lot of time here growing up and it was a huge part of my life. Baseball and Northfield have given me so much I am glad to be able to give back a little.”