South Jersey Baseball Needs to be Recognized
In 2011 a group of local kids, made up mostly from Atlantic County, represented the Atlantic Shore Babe Ruth league and made a run to the Babe Ruth 13-year old World Series. As 14-year olds they made the Mid-Atlantic Regional Final and as 15-year olds they made another run to the World Series.
I was lucky enough to be their coach - today I can say I am honored.
Today some of that group may be done with their high school playing careers, but they leave, leaving an incredible mark on South Jersey baseball.
The boys at Mainland (Jack Loefflad, Nick Droboniku, Kyle Gerace, Matt Thomas, Dean Deveney, George Morton and Nick Trifiletti) featured an All South Jersey Pitcher in Gerace and the South Jersey Baseball Coaches Association Scholar Athlete Nick Droboniku. Over their four years they won a Cape Atlantic League title, Back to back South Jersey Group III titles, a New Jersey state Group III title, and the school record for wins.
Over at Holy Spirit, Anthony Boselli, AJ Russo and Joe Hartley just captured the Spartans first State title in 33 years.
While Mike Trout may have put South Jersey baseball on the map, these kids have kept the flag flying high in the air.
Now seven years after Trout has been drafted, he is the reigning American League MVP, and five years since that group of locals first appearance into the Babe Ruth World Series, they too have many accomplishments to be proud of.
In 2011, in our very first practice, Droboniku, who's now a senior at Mainland, was a strong armed third baseman. I hit him a ground ball, he fielded it and double-pumped - the thought in my head was come on kid, throw the ball - when he finally did, when I saw the velocity I saw from a kid 13-years old - I knew we had something special.
Droboniku has gone on to be one of the top big game pitchers for Mainland, helping the Mustangs to a pair of South Jersey Group III titles and a Group III State Championship last year.
Kyle Gerace was our sure-handed shortstop, making just about every play that came his way - five years later, he is one of the area's top pitchers as a junior at Mainland. Jack Loefflad is now one of the top catchers in the area, but back then he patrolled right field and came in many tight spots as an arm out of the bullpen. Junior Matt Thomas covered all of centerfield and came up with big hits all the time, and fellow junior Dean Deveney was a young kid who has now developed into a three-sport star at Mainland.
Over at Holy Spirit, the Spartans just put a bow on a state championship - but for Anthony Boselli, AJ Russo and Joe Hartley it's not their first state title. The trio from Ventnor were a big part of the Spartans state title run and each won a state title during their ASHORE days, appearing in the World Series (Boselli and Russo in 2011 & 2013, Hartley in 2013).
At Atlantic City high Steve Myers, just a junior, might be the best hitter in the league and is closing in on 100 career hits. Myers who earned first Team all-CAL honors as well as getting an automatic invitation to the underclassman college and MLB tryout showcase in June and was named to the Carpenter Cup team. He also led all CAL American division hitters with a .529 batting average.
The three year varsity starter for the Vikings was one of the top hitters for the ASHORE teams and has carried that into his high school career.
Cody Sadrameli hit in the middle of the ASHORE lineups during those runs, and now he does the same for St. Augustine Prep Hermits.
Zach Newman was a star at Cedar Creek before that he played left field for ASHORE, he made the team as a 13-year old hitting four out of 10 pitches over the fence, he also won the fastest man contest at the World Series in Clifton Park, NY.
Kyler Pikus was the ace of the staff, he was a pitcher as a freshman at Holy Spirit and continued to be one of the top pitchers in the area the past three seasons. As a 13-year old, he might have been the best pitcher in the country that year.
Zach Zellers and Chris Sieg were also important players on the 2012 and 2013 teams - Zellers joined the team in 2012 and played at Ocean City and Sieg made the roster in 2013 and has stared at ACIT for the past three seasons.
Role players are a big part of every team and the 2011-2013 ASHORE teams had tons of them, there was Brian Casey (now playing for Ocean City), Billy McMenamin, R.J. D'Amico and Matt Morgan were all key players in the roles they were asked to fill.
McMenamin is one of the top Lacrosse players at St. Augustine Prep, D'Amico went on to be one of the top football players at the Prep.
So while Mike Trout might be a success at the highest level, these local kids had success at 13 and are continuing their success at the high school level. Trout was a trailblazer, he put baseball on the map in an area that had great football and basketball and now has great baseball - thanks to Trout and thanks to these kids who played and represented Atlantic Shore.
Others who play high school ball have had success and many of those kids played Atlantic Shore baseball - but in 2011 we thought we had something special they showed us then they were special and you can continue to see today they still are.
I wish more kids followed the lead of these young men, they played and represented their towns, they had pride in doing so. Today in a AAU world we live in that gets lost - having civic pride is a thing of the past. If all the kids just played for their towns instead of being told AAU is a better product - the competition between the towns would be much better.
Today, kids are being pulled in so many different directions playing on so many different teams, and in the end its hurting baseball. While more baseball is a good thing - lack of commitments, being a good teammate get lost in all of that.
In 2011 this group of kids made a few key commitments - to each other and the team - and in return, success has followed them everywhere.
Today AAU has become who can write a check and who has time to start their own team - lets get back to the days of civic pride, representing your town - we might just be able to keep South Jersey baseball on the map and save it all at once.