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THIS WEEK’S e-EDITION (Feb. 25, 2015)



Decastro picked


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


It’s all over but the swearing in – which was scheduled to happen at the next meeting of the mayor and Town Council on Tuesday, Feb. 24.

Marytrine DeCastro was to be installed as the newest member of the governing body, filling the seat formerly occupied by First Ward Councilwoman Alexa Arce, who resigned Jan. 5 with three years remaining in her four-year term.

DeCastro emerged as the uncontested winner following a closed ballot vote by members of the Kearny Democratic County Committee last Tuesday at the Frobisher American Legion post, according to committee chairman Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos. Sonia Hill and Jenny Mach were also up for the job.

County committee members last month submitted the names of all three candidates, from which the Town Council was to appoint one. But, after the council failed to reach a consensus at its Feb. 2 meeting, the selection – as determined by Town Counsel Greg Castano – was tossed back to the county committee.

Of the 59 committee members (there’s one vacancy), 43 participated in the voting, after each of the nominees was given an opportunity to introduce themselves and field questions, Santos said.

Only a simple majority was required of the victor and, according to Santos, DeCastro easily outdistanced her competitors.

Hoping to capitalize on their willingness to be put forward for civic duty to the town, Santos said Mach, a Tenafly middle school physical science teacher, and Hill, a state-certified patient access representative for St. Barnabas Hospital, were offered positions on the Kearny Library Board and Kearny Planning Board, respectively. As of last week, they were still considering the offers, he said.

DeCastro currently serves on the Kearny Board of Health and Santos said that the town was researching whether she could continue doing that while sitting as a member of the Town Council. Her term on the Board of Health runs through Dec. 31, 2015.

DeCastro will serve on the council through the November general election, at which point she said she plans to seek election in hopes of keeping her First Ward seat by filling out the remaining two years of Arce’s unexpired term.

A registed nurse and the single parent of two children, DeCastro has served on the town’s Beautification and Environment Committee and Juvenile Conference Committee. Her sister, Lyla DeCastro Lawdanski, is a part-time mayoral aide.

Asked if she was surprised by the county committee vote results, DeCastro said: “Very much so,” adding that both Mach and Hill “are fantastic and I am looking forward to working with them, my First Ward council colleague Albino Cardoso and the other council members.”

She added that she was grateful for “the opportunity to represent my First Ward constituents” and to “offer my dedication – along with the rest of the council – to promoting the Kearny community and to seeing local businesses thrive.”

Among the projects affecting members of the First Ward she plans to monitor is the planned upgrade of Pettigrew Playground at Highland and Woodland Aves. which is due to be put out to bid later this year.

“It’s been recommended that the age range for that playground’s use be expanded from 2 to 5, to 2 to 12,” De- Castro said, “and there will be another public meeting coming up to hear community suggestions on the types of play facilities that might be appropriate. There’s been one recommendation made, for example, for a rock climbing wall.”

Councilman Cardoso said he, too, looked forward to working with his new First Ward partner. “I think we will make a good team,” he said, “and I would have been very honored to serve with any of the three nominees.” Council President Carol Jean Doyle, who said she’s gotten to know DeCastro and her family members from their having worked on prior political campaigns, recalled that DeCastro was asked to consider running for Town Council 10 years ago, “but at the time she was the parent of two young children and she was going to nursing school,” so that never happened.

“Now, I’m happy to say, she’s ready,” Doyle said. “But the other two ladies were great candidates, too, and I hope they’ll accept the offer to serve on our boards because we need people who are interested in the future of Kearny and we’re lucky to have them.”

Gov.’s veto leaves UEZ up the creek


By Ron Leir 

Observer Correspondent 


Farewell, Farmers’ Market? No more Doggie Halloween Pawrade?

Maybe sooner than you think.

Kearny’s Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) program, which sponsors those events, has been left on life support, now that Gov. Chris Christie has squelched a legislative proposal to revive its funding.

Kearny is the only community in The Observer’s coverage area which has a UEZ, of which there are 32 around the state.

Businesses in designated UEZ zones continue to offer a 3.5% sales tax (discounted from 7%) to their customers and are still eligible for low interest loans for tax-free capital improvements or equipment purchases but some four years ago, Christie froze the return of the sales tax balance to UEZ municipalities.

From that point on, those municipalities could no longer tap that revenue flow to facilitate improvements or services designed to benefit the local business district.

Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) sponsored a bill (A3952) which would have restored 30% of the sales tax to a UEZ assistance fund for municipal use but Christie vetoed it, preferring to deposit the entire tax revenues – projected to reach $287 million by 2018 – into the state budget.

“We’re disappointed,” Mayor Alberto Santos said. “Kearny’s UEZ program will be running out of funds and this will have an impact on future business investment and job creation.”

The UEZ concept came about in 1983 under legislation signed by Republican Gov. Thomas Kean to help offset the impact of many mom and pop businesses in urban communities being supplanted by suburban malls.

Three years later, Kearny formed its UEZ with the aim of reviving the Kearny Ave. business district and other outlying commercial areas and Town Council President Carol Jean Doyle credited local UEZ Director John Peneda with “parlaying our UEZ receipts to best use” to keep small businesses afloat.

“Now you see some empty store sites along Kearny Ave. but John Peneda has worked hard to get people to shop locally at a time when we need it the most,” said Doyle.

And while Kearny’s UEZ – like its counterparts around the state – can no longer rely on annual replenishments of its fund, the program has been functioning – on a more limited basis – with accumulated reserves of about $1.8 million. Today, there are 160 local businesses registered in the UEZ.

For 2015, the UEZ board, with consent from the town’s governing body, had budgeted $137,000 – money left over from its project fund account for the lion’s share (the town paid the rest) of three walking cops for Kearny Ave. and a sweeper and driver to clean Kearny Ave.

However, the actual costs came to about $160,000 for the cops plus $96,000 for the clean sweep for a total of about $256,000, putting the account about $119,000 in the hole, Peneda said. “That meant, for the first time, we had to dip into our reserves.”

“If no new funding comes in [via state legislation],” Peneda said, “we may have to put the brakes on these projects or cut back in some way, like reducing the number of cops we pay for.”

As for projects that have come to be consistently associated with UEZ sponsorship, such as the Kearny calendar, Kearny magazine, the Farmers’ Market and Town-Wide Yard Sale, Peneda said those are being paid for though a separate account for town marketing programs, “for which we have about $35,000 left.”

However, he said, there is no money available at this point to pay for Christmas tree lighting and decorations and it’s likely the UEZ board will be coming before the Town Council by mid-year to request a new allocation.

Peneda said the UEZ has “close to $240,000” allocated for loans to UEZ businesses offered at an interest rate of 4.5% for capital improvements and/or equipment purchases for those businesses. “We’re still getting some money back on outstanding loans,” he said.

Back when the town’s UEZ was still receiving annual sales tax revenues, Peneda said that, “$3 million a year [in new revenues] was probably a high point for us.”

During the program’s first decade, “66% of our projects – which accounted for expenditures of $19 million – were for brick and mortar items such as the Kearny Ave. streetscape and paving and the Seller St. storm water drainage,” he said.

Without a renewal of annual funding cycles, however, eventually the well will run dry, Peneda conceded. “It all depends on what our board does. If they decide to continue full funding of our existing projects, we might last four or five years. If they cut back, maybe we’ll last seven or eight years.”

Here’s what UEZ looks like now

What are Kearny’s Designated Zone boundaries?

The Zone is approximately 1,193 acres, 1.86 sq. mi. or 20% of Kearny’s landmass.

Essentially, it consists of all, or parts of: the South Kearny Peninsula, Kearny/ Passaic/Midland/Schuyler Avenues, the Belleville Turnpike, Newark-Jersey City Turnpike (Harrison Ave.), the Sellers/O’Brien Street area, and areas east of Schuyler Ave.

Most liquor stores don’t check IDs


By Karen Zautyk 

Observer Correspondent

In 2013, the Hudson County Coalition for Drug Free Communities (HCCDFC) conducted a test at a number of liquor stores in Kearny, Harrison and East Newark to see how many would check the age identification on young customers. Most of those visited failed to do so, the coalition reported.

The results were published, along with reminders that 21 is the legal drinking age in New Jersey.

A year later, the experiment was repeated at the same stores, and several additional venues. And in 2014, the majority — 63% — of vendors visited still flunked.

Both tests were conducted on Dec. 30, the eve of New Year’s Eve — “a holiday largely associated with excessive drinking.” You would think vendors would be especially wary. That they apparently were not is disappointing.

The coalition issued the results of its December 2014 survey earlier this month, with a comparison to the earlier experiment.

In 2013, 11 stores selling liquor in West Hudson were visited, and eight failed to ask for proof of age. “At that time,” the coalition reported, “we chose a staff member in his early 20s. Though this HCCDFC member was of legal age, he had boyish features and was dressed in a college sweatshirt and sneakers. We did not try to conceal his age.” However, as a coalition spokesperson noted last year, “Based on his appearance alone, his age would be hard to determine.”

[Editor’s note: It is important to clarify that the coalition was not actually breaking the law. The purchasers in both tests were over 21.]

“Exactly a year later,” the coalition statement said, “a 22 year-old female coalition representative was chosen to purchase alcohol from local stores. She too was dressed in a college sweatshirt and her age was not concealed.

“She visited the same 11 stores from 2013 along with five new locations.


Hudson County Coalition Above and Top Photo: Some of the products purchased by the Hudson County Coalition representative.

Hudson County Coalition
Above and Top Photo: Some of the products purchased by the Hudson County Coalition representative.

“Of the 16 stores that she purchased alcohol from, 10 sold her alcohol without properly checking her identification. This amounts to nearly 63% of vendors not requesting identification before selling her alcohol.”

There was a slight improvement in compliance, 37% of the stores asking for ID, as compared with 27% in 2013. But, “it is still an alarming rate.”

As with the 2013 experiment, the coalition is not publicly naming the 2014 noncompliant liquor stores. Part of the reason: to prevent minors from learning where they might illegally obtain alcohol. But, in addition, the coalition does not want to assume law enforcement’s role.

“Informing the local police is more effective,” said Karena Malko of Hudson County’s Partners in Prevention. “The ABC [Alcoholic Beverage Control] can then speak to it directly.”

Malko noted that the coalition works with law enforcement, offering free TAMs [Techniques of Alcohol Management] training to liquor store employees.

“We are constantly running TAMs training,” she said, noting that classes have been held “in just about every municipality in the county.”

The training consists of a single 3- to 4-hour class, providing, the coalition said, “the skills and information necessary for the prevention of illegal sale of alcohol beverages to underage persons.”

There is a limit of 30 students per class, and it is first-come, first-served, Malko said. Alcoholic beverage license holders are notified by mail of upcoming sessions, and police departments also circulate flyers, she said.

Because the classes fill up fast, she urged early sign-ups when a license holder is contacted.

The coalition continues to emphasize that “supplying alcohol to minors is a serious offense that can incur infractions to liquor license holders who choose to ignore it.”

According to New Jersey’s ABC Handbook: “If there is any doubt that the purchaser is under 21 years of age, the sale should not be made. Licensees have the right to refuse a sale if they believe a purchaser is under the age of 21. A license which has four such violations (of providing alcohol to a minor) within two years presumptively will be revoked.”

The coalition says it has “prioritized underage drinking as a primary public health concern” because of a “high correlation rate of injury and social consequences, including but not limited to: binge drinking, driving while intoxicated, alcohol poisoning and high-risk behavior.”

It is urging additional and closer monitoring of liquor vendors statewide and would like to see implementation of store policies to require proof of age for anyone who appears to be under 30.

[Personal note: There is a store in North Arlington that requires anyone buying cigarettes to produce ID. Your correspondent finds this flattering. That venue has a strict age-limit policy; why can’t others enforce the law, for cigs and liquor?]

For more information about the Hudson County Coalition, visit www.hudsoncountycoalition.org.

News in brief


He is still seeking approvals to expand his residential project at Bergen and Schuyler Aves. in Kearny but in the meantime, the town’s governing body has taken the first step to grant Ed Russo a PILOT (payment in lieu of taxation) for 311-337 Bergen Ave., which is designated as part of an area in need of redevelopment.

Under the proposed 30-year PILOT agreement, Russo would pay the town an annual “service charge” starting at $179,375 (of which the town would receive $170,406 and the county the rest) and escalating over the 30 years, provide a one-time only affordable housing trust fund contribution of $125,000 and repave a section of Bergen, from Schuyler to the railroad trestle.

Town officials listed the current real estate taxes on the properties, now occupied by commercial tenants, as $57,476, of which the town’s share is $20,116.

A public hearing on an ordinance proposing the PILOT, that was introduced Feb. 10, was up for adoption Feb. 24 and the town Planning Board will continue hearing testimony on the proposed expansion project on March 4.


Canine advocates have pressed for lights and municipal staff to clean the grounds and monitor dogs’ behavior for the soon-to-come Kearny dog park in Riverbank Park but they’ll be disappointed.

But Councilwoman Carol Jean Doyle said the town can’t afford to hire any additional staff, nor does it want to illuminate the facility since municipal parks close at dusk.

These and other recommendations were made at a recent meeting called by Doyle to give the public one final chance for input on the design for the facility. Neglia Engineering is finalizing bid specifications for the project for which the town has been awarded $175,000 from the Hudson County Open Space Trust Fund.

“People want the fence [around the area where unleashed dogs can run] to be higher than four feet and it will be,” Doyle said, “but we don’t want it to look like cages.”

Other park features will include two pooper scooper stations “with individual plastic bag dispensers,” one for the area to enclose smaller dogs up to 35 pounds and another for the area reserved for dogs heavier than 35 pounds, plus trash cans, Doyle said.

“There will be a concrete path to accommodate wheelchairs and two parking spaces dedicated to impaired drivers,” she said. “There are also plans to plant about six more trees.”

“Shovels should be in the ground by the spring,” Doyle predicted.


After six days of hearings spread over five months, the Nutley Zoning Board of Adjustment has finally approved plans for a mixed-use development at the intersection of Passaic and Kingsland Aves. and Kingsland St. where a 7-Eleven was to be built before plans fell through.

Last month, after the applicant twice scaled back his design, the board issued approvals for North American Eagle Construction to tear down a fire-damaged 3-family house, an old gas station and a one-family home in disrepair and build a 3-story structure with 600 square feet of ground-level office space and 25 rental apartments above.

Final plans call for three one-bedroom apartments on the ground/plaza level, 14 one-bedroom units on the second floor and eight one-bedrooms on the third floor. No more than three school-age children are projected to be among the residents. Apartments will range from 660 to 1,130 square feet each. A total of 41 parking spaces – one more than required by code – will be provided.

Existing multiple driveways to and from the project site will be consolidated into one to be located more than 100 feet from the intersection and at least 16 evergreen trees and/or shrubs will be planted to cover the entire west side of the site.

Clean-minded suspect in drug sweep


A Bloomfield woman who allegedy stored hundreds of envelopes of heroin, along with vials of crack cocaine, in her vacuum cleaner was arrested last week by a joint task force of Essex County sheriff’s and Bloomfield police detectives, Sheriff Armando Fontoura reported.

Fontoura said officers from his department’s Bureau of Narcotics and the Bloomfield PD surrounded the suspect’s residence at 43 Hickory St. on Tuesday afternoon, Feb. 17. When the target of their investigation, 53-year-old Carolyn Mendez-Molder, exited the home and entered her SUV, she was followed by the task force officers, who pulled her over a few blocks away.

At the residence, officers executed a search warrant for her second-floor apartment, where they reportedly discovered 499 glassine envelopes of heroin and 150 vials of crack cocaine secreted in the vacuum cleaner in the living room.

An additional 30 vials of crack cocaine were found in a bedroom laundry hamper, and a bag of marijuana, along with drug-processing and packaging materials, were in a kitchen cabinet, police said.

During a subsequent search of the suspect, she was reportedly found to have $1,145 on her person.

Authorities said Mendez- Molder was charged with three counts of possession of a controlled dangerous substance, three counts of possession of CDS with intent to distribute, and with possession of narcotics paraphernalia.

At arraignment last Wednesday in Newark, Judge Marilyn Williams set bail at $300,000 and ordered her held at the Essex County Jail.

– Karen Zautyk 

New contract gives cops 3% pay hikes


Belleville’s police force, from the rookie to the chief, is the beneficiaries of a new labor contract, approved by the Township Council Feb. 10.

An ordinance amending the township police salary guide via an annual pay increase of 3%, across the board for each rank, was adopted following a public hearing.

Police Chief Joseph Rotonda said he recommended that the governing body approve the revised pay scale, given that the department had gone without any increases during the last two years of the old contract with the Patrolman’s Benevolent Association.

Ninety-five members of the department are covered by the new agreement.

Belleville Police Det. Mark Johnson, president of the PBA local, said that the membership voted 36-0 to ratify the 3-year pact at a meeting held Jan. 6. “We’re extremely happy with the new contract,” he said.

The new agreement, which provides for no new benefits or concessions to the township, takes effect Jan. 1, 2015, and runs through Dec. 31, 2017.

Under that contract, a newly hired cop who had started off earning $33,823 while undergoing training will see that pay rise to $36,990 in 2015, $38,100 in 2016 and $39,243 in 2017.

Revised salary steps applicable to anyone hired after July 1, 2007 call for first-year cop’s pay to increase, over the life of the contract, from $44,686 to $47,409; second-year, from $52,391 to $55,582; third year, from $60,096 to $63,756; fourth year, from $67,803 to $71,932; fifth year, $75,508 to $80,106; and sixth year (top step), from $87,470 to $92,796.

Sergeant’s pay will rise over the life of the contract, from $100,564 to $106,688; lieutenant, from $115,648 to $122,690; captain, from $132,995 to $141,095; deputy chief, from $152,944 to $162,258; and chief, from $160,590 to $170,370.

While labor peace between the township and its bluecoats seems assured for the next three years, there remains the matter of diminishing ranks to deal with.

“We have eight or nine officers now in the Academy but we also have at least 20 of our members eligible to go out on retirement,” Johnson noted, and more and more veteran cops around the state have been inclined to leave because of mandated increasing costs of health insurance.

How Belleville officials plan to deal with that possibility remains to be seen. In 2013, the township did promote seven officers to sergeant but it’s likely that additional gaps in the ranks will, ultimately, have to be filled.

 – Ron Leir 

KPD: The sweet smell of arrest

Kearny police were on radar detail on Rt. 7 in South Kearny last Wednesday when, at 4:14 p.m., Officer John Fabula clocked a westbound PT Cruiser doing 68 in a 45 mph zone. Officer Brian Wisely stopped the vehicle and, as he approached on foot, reportedly detected the odor of marijuana. Asked about the scent, police said the driver, Alexander Delgado, 44, of Lyndhurst, replied, “That’s my air freshener.”

After backup officer Sgt. Charles Smith noticed a handrolled cigarette in the center console, Delgado admitted to having two small bags of pot in his pocket, police said. He was arrested charged with possession of the drug and paraphernalia and also received a summons for speeding.

• • •

Other recent reports from the Kearny police blotter included the following:

Feb. 13 

Officer Luis Moran responded to Walmart at 7:59 p.m. to take into custody an alleged shoplifter who had been stopped by store security. Suspect Francisco Maldonado, 25, of Newark was found to have two warrants from that city and, unable to post bail, was taken to the Hudson County Jail.

Feb. 14 

Moran took into custody another shoplifting suspect, Jessica Rosado, 36, of Newark, at 2:37 p.m. at ShopRite, where store security was holding her. Police said Rosado had been seen on videotape stealing baby formula the previous afternoon and was nabbed by security when she returned to the store this day.

Feb. 15 

Officer Dean Gasser, responding to a 2:50 a.m. report of an accident on Harrison Ave., arrived to find that a 1999 Honda Accord had crashed into a concrete divider near the Turnpike entrance. Limping along the roadway was a man clad in a flourescent green jacket, who was identified as the driver, Derick Mejianovoa, 28, of Harrison. Police said he complained of leg pain, but after an ambulance was summoned, refused medical attention. He also allegedly refused to take an Alcotest. He was charged with that offense and with DWI.

• • •

At 6:29 p.m., Officer Wisely was on patrol on Passaic Ave. when he spotted a 1995 Honda parked near the loading dock at the vacant Pathmark building. Approaching the car, he reportedly detected the odor of pot and saw the passenger attempting to conceal something. Questioned, the passenger, Jaycee Louis, 23, of East Orange, turned over a handrolled lit cigar containing the drug, police said. As the driver, Norberto Lopez, 20, of Belleville, exited the vehicle, a container of pot-filled baggies, fell out, police said. Both men were charged with possession of the drug and paraphernalia; the driver, was also charged with possession of a CDS in a motor vehicle.

Feb. 16

At 1:30 a.m., Wisely responded to a report of a homeless person in an empty building on the 500 block of Kearny Ave. Peering through a window, the officer saw, and recognized, 34-year-old Eric Tobin sleeping in the basement. Tobin, of no known address, was allegedly in possession of marijuana, and was charged with that, possession of drug paraphernalia, and trespassing. Police said he also had two outstanding Kearny warrants. He was taken to the Hudson County Jail, where, your correspondent notes, at least he had a warm place to snooze.

• • •

Officer Jordenson Jean, on patrol at Johnston and Kearny Aves. at 2:40 p.m. stopped a 2011 Infiniti for having illegally tinted windows. Police said the driver, Carnell Wright, 25, of Kearny, was found to have a suspended license. He was charged with the equipment violation, driving while suspended and being unlicensed. (To alert Observer readers who recognize the name: Yes, he was arrested in Kearny last week on a warrant from Newark and at that time was said to have a Newark address.)

– Karen Zautyk 

Bank’s accounts secure despite ATM skimmer: NPD

On Feb. 2, a local bank’s branch manager had alerted Nutley PD that it appeared that someone had placed a skimming device on the ATM just outside the bank near its drive-thru and cops noticed an adhesive residue left on the machine near the slot for inserting the ATM card.

Police now report some consolation in the fact that an investigation by the Centre St. bank “has revealed that no customer’s accounts were compromised.”

No further details were provided by police about the original incident reported by the bank.

• • •

In other developments, between Feb. 14 and 20, Nutley PD said they responded to 17 motor vehicle accidents, four suspicious incidents, 27 medical calls and these incidents:

Feb. 14 

After spotting a vehicle with its right rear brake light out on Bloomfield Ave., police pulled over the driver, Kellie Van Pelt, 22, of North Brunswick, who was found to have an active warrant from that municipality. She was arrested on the warrant and ticketed for maintenance of lamps, driving without a license and failure to possess insurance card. After posting bail, she was released pending court dates.

Feb. 15 

While patrolling on Kingsland St., police observed a vehicle eastbound with a non-functioning rear left taillight. The driver, Julius Sierra, 18, of Jersey City, was issued summonses for maintenance of lamps and driving while suspended. Police said Sierra also was wanted on warrants from North Bergen. He was turned over to North Bergen PD.

Feb. 16 

A fraud victim told police that someone had made four unauthorized charges totaling about $1,000 on their credit card, which, police said, the victim has now canceled.

Feb. 17 

A Coeyman Ave. resident reported getting a message on their voicemail from an unknown male saying their taxes were delinquent. Police tried to contact the caller but only got voicemail.

Feb. 18

A theft was reported at the PSE&G electrical yard on Cook Road. A worker told police that when they arrived that morning, they found the main gate locked but the gate to the yard open and a lock and extra chain missing. It was unclear whether anything was missing, police said.

• • •

A homeowner reported the theft of a four-month supply of seizure medication valued at more than $300.

• • •

Two packages were reported stolen from a Washington Ave. resident’s porch. The resident told police that they had made two online purchases but that neither package had been received although they had gotten emails from FedEx and USPS confirming both deliveries. The resident told police that prior packages had been stolen as well.

Feb. 19 

Police responded to a Franklin Ave. car wash on a report of damage to a vehicle. The vehicle’s owner told police that after the wash, they noticed their car antenna broken off. Police said the manager assured them that the car wash would pay for any damage to the vehicle.

Feb. 20

While on patrol on Franklin Ave., police said that they saw a black BMW X3 southbound with its passenger side headlamp out and that a computer check of the vehicle’s registration revealed that the owner had a suspended license and three warrants. Police stopped the vehicle at Chestnut and Prospect Sts. The driver, David Echavarria, 38, of Belleville, was arrested on the warrants from Rutherford, Roseland and Hoboken. He was also ticketed for operating while suspended, failure to produce a license and failure to produce a registration card. He was released pending court dates.

– Ron Leir 

Thoughts & Views: It happens every spring

2-25 Op_web

In case you hadn’t noticed, pitchers and catchers have reported for the annual ritual of spring training.

By April, the baseball season will have begun and every team can dream of winning the pennant and the World Series.

But, as T.S. Eliot liked to say, “April is the cruelest month,” because while it theoretically offers the possibility of rebirth and hope, by the time October rolls around, it means that all but two of the teams in the American and National Leagues will have to “wait ‘til next year” for their chance at all the marbles.

Still, now is the time of year when we can all dream big with our favorite team – yes, even the woeful Cubbies who haven’t won the Series since 1908 when they knocked off Detroit and Hall of Famer Ty Cobb.

That team featured pitching ace “Three Finger” Mordecai Brown who had six seasons with 20 or more wins plus a double play combination made famous by poet Franklin Pierce Adams: Tinker to Evers to Chance. Funny thing was Tinker and Evers didn’t talk to each other after, it is said, Evers grabbed a cab to the ballpark one day, stranding his teammate.

You can look it up, fans.

Baseball, which is still our national pastime, has survived despite all forms of cheating – even a World Series fix in 1919 by that other Chicago team, the White Sox – and the infamous “reserve clause” famously challenged by Curt Flood and racism, successfully smashed by Jackie Robinson. I grew up in Jersey City where Jackie played for the Dodgers’ Montreal Royals farm team against the Jersey City Giants at Roosevelt Stadium in April 1946, a year before moving up to the parent club in Brooklyn and broke the color line.

Don’t bother looking for the stadium; like the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field before it, that baseball relic was swept aside to make way for a residential development.

Luckily, the “Friendly Confines” of the Cubs’ home, Wrigley Field, still stands, as does the venerable Fenway Park in Boston (pictured above).

Remarkably, over more than a century of diamond history, there has been only one player fatality on the field. That happened in 1920, when Yankees submariner Carl Mays beaned the popular Cleveland shortstop Ray Chapman and not long after that, the baseball establishment mandated the use of helmets and outlawed the spitball (although it grandfathered in veteran pitchers who had been using the pitch).

Aside from expansion and a few rule changes, the game – with a dubious myth about its origins – has pretty much stayed the same, with its central premise being that it is a contest played at its own pace – unlike other sports — without concern about the passage of time.

Until now, that is.

In an effort to speed up the game, the baseball commissioner has decreed that the major leagues will now be on the clock for pitching changes and inning breaks and batters won’t be permitted to step out of the box willy-nilly.

And, based on experimentation with the Arizona Fall League last year (as noted by The Star Ledger) there could be more rule changes coming, like restrictions on managers’/ catchers’ visits to the mound, no-pitch intentional walks and more.

Naturally, baseball purists will be upset but it doesn’t bother me and I’m a lifelong baseball addict who tried out (unsuccessfully) for my college team when it was coached by onetime Cub utility infielder Norm Gigon and, as consolation, I play Sunday softball doubleheaders in Central Park.

I’d prefer to see these changes:

• The American League should eliminate the designated hitter and let the pitcher bat.

• Let fans watch batting and fielding practice. It’s part of the game. Fans can come early, relax, catch part of the pregame ritual and bond with the players.

• Stadiums should stop blasting loud music at us every chance they get. It’s annoying, harmful to the ears and takes away from the pleasure of watching the game.

• Team owners really need to re-think how they design their ballparks. AT&T Park in San Francisco, with a seating capacity of 41,000, has great sightlines and feels just right. Camden Yards in Baltimore is another good example.

• Get the Yankees to have open tryouts for a backup third baseman behind Chase Headley just to shake up ARod. Play ball!

– Ron Leir