A Summer of Baseball: Looking Back at Atlantic Shore’s Wild World Series Ride
What a summer of baseball.
As some of you know, I volunteer my time as a youth baseball coach and serve as the Vice-President of the Atlantic Shore Babe Ruth baseball league. The league features kids from all over Atlantic and Cape May counties and every year enter an all-star team, often referred to as ASHORE, short for Atlantic Shore.
It is the 13-year equivalent to the Little League tournament (though Babe Ruth is a competing organization) that many see featured on ESPN television.
I started coaching because I love the game of baseball. I had coaches along the way that made an impact on me and just wanted to give back to my community and hopefully make that same type of impact on my players, teaching the game from an independent mind without asking for any compensation.
Never did I think getting to or winning a World Series would be possible.
The Atlantic Shore league has been around for quite some time, dating back into the 1970s. From its inception to 2003, the league never won as much a State Championship at any level (13,14, or 15-year old) until the 2004 14-year old team was able to accomplish that feat.
However, from 2005-2010 the league was never able to reach that level of success again.
In 2011, I started coaching the 13-year old team with my longtime friend Brian Pugh and Ventnor resident Joe Iannuzzelli. Together we had a dedicated bunch of kids and parents and fought our way through districts before finally getting the league's second State title.
We were in utter shock.
Atlantic Shore winning a state title just didn't happen. Not with Nottingham, Hamilton, Hopewell, West Windsor, and the rest of the powerful District 1 teams vying for the same crown. Plus, there were great baseball towns like Millville, Pennsville, and areas with a much bigger population to draw from, like Washington Twp., Medford, Marlton, and more.
From there, we moved on to the Mid-Atlantic Regional, with the winner moving on to the Babe Ruth World Series.
After going 2-2 in pool play, we advanced into the single-elimination knockout round with a little help from a rival, Washington Township, who defeated us to win the district title (they took the top teams). After their 0-3 start in pool play, they knocked off a team from Maryland to help us advance.
We took advantage of that, sweeping through the knockout round, defeating a team from Branchburg, NJ, 11-1 to advance to the Babe Ruth World Series in Clifton Park, NY.
At the Word Series that year, we had no idea what to expect. We were wide-eyed and just going along for the ride. We had an amazing experience in Clifton Park, going 2-2 in pool play during our stay at the World Series.
Never again did I ever think we would be able to make it back. The amount of dedication and commitment is tough to match, even if you have the most talented team.
However, that 2011 team paved the way for the most talented players in our area to want to play and represent their town and their league, ASHORE. In a time where travel baseball is everywhere, kids in Atlantic and Cape May county grow up saying I want to play ASHORE.
Since that 2011 team, Atlantic Shore has captured too many State titles to remember and has been to the World Series seven times, capturing two titles at the 14-year old level and now another one at the 13-year old level.
I personally have been to the World Series as the manager three times and it never gets old. The kids and parents have an amazing experience each time, but there is a lot that goes in to get there.
As soon as we captured the Mid-Atlantic Regional title on July 24, fundraising for World Series expenses began. Behind the scenes with were raising money through various avenues, maybe even some of you donated to our Venmo account. We had coin drops and a Beef N beer, and various auctions leading up to the trip.
There is the booking of the Babe Ruth approved hotels, sizing and ordering Babe Ruth League issued uniforms, making sure all the names and numbers are right (sorry, coach Curtin).
Once we arrived in Jamestown, NY, there is check-in, coaches breakfast, and preparations from the Parade of Champions. The parade takes the kids down the center of town on a float, as locals admire the accomplishment of these young men.
The following day it's finally game time.
Four games are played in pool play with one scheduled off day. Due to rain one day during this years tournament, we actually had two days off in a row. We met as a team after each game. A group of parents rented a lake house for the team to assemble, grill, jump in the lake and bond, adding to the unique experience. We even had a birthday party for one of the players along the way! (Happy birthday Christian)
On our off days, we took a drive to Niagara Falls to see the powerful wonder of the world. We used a rain day to head to an indoor water park to pass the time.
When play resumed, it was back to business. We started working out with this team in February, hitting in the indoor Margate batting cages. We got out on the practice fields for tryouts in April in Ventnor with about 25 kids vying for a spot to be selected for this unique team.
In the end, the 15 we selected gave us the perfect blend to help lead us to a World Series title.
We advance to the knockout round after going 2-2 in pool play as the No. 3 seed, first defeating a team from Kai, Hawaii. Next it was a revenge game against Tallahassee, FL, who beat us 8-1 in pool play, we knocked them off by a score of 9-1. Finally another revenge match-up with Norwalk, CT, who knocked us off 3-1 in the opening game of pool play to open the tournament. We defeated them 10-7 in the World Series title game to bring home the National Championship.
A lot goes into this.
Work allowed me to go, so thank you Mike Ruble and Townsquare Media.
Atlantic Shore President Bill Rauzzino allowed me to coach the team and pick my staff.
My staff was amazing.
I met Don Myers when I coached his kid Steven, who was a player on the 2011 team. After Steven aged out, Margate folded their team and Do joined me on my staff in Ventnor and has been with me ever since. He is a true friend, who loves the game and his given plenty of his time to make this happen. His employer, Nick Droboniku, who met when their sons played together on the 2011 team, allowed Don to be a part of this experience.
Don's son Steven joined our staff this season, and was a valuable piece to the World Series puzzle. A tremendous hitter as a player, being left-handed allowed him to focus on our two left-handed pitchers and work with our first baseman. In the quarter-finals one of those lefties, Dillon Singleton pitched us to victory and our first baseman, Matt Wagner was named to the all-defensive team.
Finally, Frank Curtin, who has now won a World Series as a player and a coach. Frank played for me in Ventnor and as a member of an ASHORE team when he was 13. He was the difference maker in this. I am so proud of the baseball mind he has become and without him on this staff, we don't win this World Series.
Collectively this staff was the perfect blend and I appreciate everything and all the time they dedicated to this.
Finally, my girlfriend Heidi. She allowed me to take this journey and supported the team the entire way. Her mom even watched the wrong game on championship Saturday, she was actually watching the semifinal game against Tallahassee. - luckily the result was the same!
As I finish writing this, I still can't believe we won the World Series. Even though the league as had a ton of success, each year is unique and different. It takes a perfect blend of commitment, dedication and everyone refusing to lose.
That's exactly what Jake Blum, Colin Thompson, Will Hickman, Aidan Ralph, Ryan Baldwin, Christian Madamba, John Franchini, Damon Herzchel, Brady Arena, T.J. McBall, T.J. Santarpio, Colt Russo, Matt Wagner, Bernie Hargadon, Dillon Singleton and our bat boy Roman Franchini all had.
Their parents: Craig and Jen, Jesse and Jennifer, Sara and Bill, Laura and Mike, Jen and Matt, Dave and Hollie, John and Ashley, D'Ann and Ted, Greg and Christine, Desiree and Terri, Jeff and Jyll, Joe and Jamie, Nick and Melanie, Joe and Kelly and Dennis and Beth.
And a huge thank you to the many, many, many South Jersey businesses that donated and helped to make this happen.
They all had that perfect blend of commitment, dedication and everyone refusing to lose.
They showed up the practices, fundraised, traveled, supported and most importantly respected the coaches decisions.
Thank you all for your support and making this happen. You all deserve this.
In closing, continue to play for your town, be a kid, have fun. We told the kids before the knockout round of the playoffs begun, there is playing on a team and there is being on a team. Playing on a team is playing for yourself. Being on a team is being a part of something, do whatever it takes to win, regardless of what your role is that day.
Representing your town and community is still pretty cool. Have community pride and love where you live, and the lifelong memories and friendships that emerge because of the experience.
Soon enough the players who want to advance their game will do so, but for one crazy summer, we have a great group of kids and parents representing South Jersey and everyone should be proud of them and their accomplishments.
Thank you for allowing to be a part of it.