More than 350 Wantagh Little Leaguers vowed Saturday to strike out drugs as they started their season collaborating with Nassau County police.
Little Leaguers mobbed Mr. Met and wore the slogan “strike out drugs” on their jerseys as police and coaches tried to instill the anti-drug message at a young age and avert adding to Long Island's opioid crisis.
More than 200 young people died last year of opioid abuse in Nassau County, Nassau County Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder told the crowd of parents and young players.
“I want to get the message out so none of you or your families have to go through that,” Ryder said.
The Little League drug prevention program followed an intermural wrestling program launched earlier this year. Police plan to expand the program in the coming weeks to youth lacrosse and a choir in Uniondale.
“We’re getting the message out young,” Ryder said. “The younger we get the message about how bad drugs are, the better it will be for our future. We don’t want to lose one more kid.”
Nassau police spread their message with former Mets pitcher and television analyst Nelson Figueroa. He was presented with the Nassau police commissioner shield and a police hat.
“I love strikeouts. I was a pitcher,” Figueroa said. “I grew up in Brooklyn and dealt with drugs in my life that many people didn’t have to. I lost a lot of friends and family members to drugs.”
Figueroa told players how he dreamed of being a big leaguer and said following dreams may create opportunities to work in baseball, such as Olympic softball player, broadcaster and Mets adviser Jessica Mendoza.
“One of you can become the next Jacob deGrom because he got paid a lot more than I did,” Figueroa said. “Baseball and Little League can provide a lifetime of memories.”
Chris Burlew stood with his son Cameron, 5, during the opening ceremony and said now was the time to get across the anti-drug message.
“I think we’ve got to get them while they’re young,” Burlew said. “It’s a community effort and a burden on the whole community.”
Little League officials also announced plans to dedicate a turf field at Forest Lake Elementary in memory of James Lodato, a Forest Lake student who died last year of cancer at age 7.
A fundraiser is planned May 5 at Mulcahy’s Pub in Wantagh.