by Ray Lenarcic

One day this past week, while recovering from surgery, I was flipping channels in the living room when I came across a Little League game on ESPN. It was between New York and New Jersey teams vying to win the regional and earn a trip to Williamsport, the site of the Little League World Series. This was the first of several games televised nationally, and I watched them all, entranced by the quality of play, level of coaching, and, sigh, umpires with too-wide strike zones. That night, struggling to get to sleep (I had to lie on my back which I never do), I began reliving my own Little League experiences, including, when I was 11, our VFW team winning the 1954 league championship. I then reminisced about the following year and the greatest championship game in Little League history.

It featured us against our “hated” rivals, the Orioles. The Southsiders, winners of 14 straight during the season, won the first half and tied with us for the second. We beat them in a single-game playoff, thereby earning us a date with Mario Checci’s chargers for the league’s best 2 out of 3 championship. We won the first game and, before a “sold out” crowd at Southern Ave field, prepared to do battle once again. And what a battle!

We drew first blood in the top of the first, scoring a run on my RBI single. The black and orange struck back against me when Ronnie Surace scored on Bobby Jantosciak’s base knock. They took the lead with two runs in the fourth on RBIs by Joey Terzi and Tony Paparella. We caught and passed them in the fifth on singles by myself, Gordy MacCammon, the league’s best hitter Bobby (Brin) Glazier, and a double by Ronnie Braccini. We added another score in the top of the sixth.

Funny how memories 67 years ago are so vivid while those from last week draw blanks. I took the mound in the bottom of the sixth, my usual confident, cocky self. Unfortunately, I wasn’t familiar with the Greek concept of hubris(false pride). According to the Athenians, individuals plagued with inflated egos are visited by nemesis-a sort of poetic justice. My nemesis that inning-giving up two singles, making a costly error, and allowing opposing pitcher Eddie Battisti’s sacrifice fly. Five to five. Extra innings. The real fun was about to begin.

In the top of the seventh, we scored four runs with key hits by Braccini and MacCammon, his fourth of the game. It was getting darker by the second. What follows is taken from the coverage by the Evening Times-coverage which took up nearly a full page. “Keith Donnelly was intentionally passed as the moon beamed down on the slow-moving scene. Jantosciak (a new pitcher), apparently under instructions to walk men until the game had to be called, passed Glazier to reload the bases. At this point, (iconic) umpire George Paulus warned Checci that further stalling would result in a forfeit win for VFW. His warning did not stop the stalling. An outside pitch was delivered to batter Jimmie Lenarcic. Pete Adamko, VFW pilot, unable to stand it any longer, ordered Lenarcic to swing away, so Lenarcic swung at the next three pitches although all three couldn’t have been reached with a plank. With catcher John Hooks, the tenth man at bat in the inning, Jantoscoak continued to throw outside. MacCammon, resting on third, decided to take matters into his own hands and wandered into home plate, where he was instinctively tagged out by catcher Surace before the latter realized he was supposed to keep the inning going.”

I could taste it-up by four runs-second straight championship in the bag. That “ole debil” hubris. Lesson not learned the first time. Ten-year-old lefty Craig Loucks, who became a lifelong friend, took the mound. His inexperience and nerves showed when he walked the first two batters. But he struck out the next two. All over-right? I could taste the post-game hot fudge sundaes at Kandyland. Hubris be damned. Not yet. More poetic justice-four more walks, and Jantosciak’s single made it 9-8. As The Times chronicled – “Loucks got behind Battisti, the next batter, 3-0, and Battisti started twirling the bat like a baton distracting the pitcher. Paulus called the next pitch a strike. Battisti continued his tactics, and the following pitch was also called a strike. On the next pitch, Battisti was no longer fooling, but neither was Loucks, who fogged it over for a third strike and the championship.”

Reliving that game left me so discombobulated that I didn’t fall asleep until after 3:00 A.M. The next day, I continued to watch games, enjoying every second. I gloried in the fact that I had been a participant in one of America’s greatest pastimes-Little League baseball-where I honed the skills as a pitcher that I’d rely on successfully in Babe Ruth, high school, and college. More significantly, thanks to coaches like Pete Adamko and Bernie Potter, I learned the important values of teamwork, sportsmanship, hard work, and how to accept defeat graciously; values which, based on what I’ve observed so far, have continued to be taught by this generation of coaches. Check out next week’s games at Williamsport, and you’ll see what I mean. By the way, I can still taste that hot fudge sundae.