The Major League Baseball All-Star game doesn’t take place until Tuesday. But a group of more than 50 ballplayers already got a taste of their Midsummer Classic.
Thursday night marked the opening day for Victory Baseball at Fred DeSanto Little League Stadium in Pittston Township. A clash between the Llewellyn Pharmacy Yankees and Sapphire Salon Phillies ensued. There were singles, doubles, triples and home runs. Friends helping friends. And lets not forget some heckling.
Victory Baseball is the byproduct of the Challanger Series. For 23 years, the Challenger Series has been a staple for mentally and physically handicapped players under 21. Players who were graduating the Challenger Baseball wanted to continue to play. Enter: Victory Baseball.
The players were announced prior to the game. And you would think that was their shining moment. And in many ways it was. But once the game got started, those recent memories were already in the past.
Gino Gratolo, an Avoca native, has been known for his power the past few seasons. Just ask Bill O’Boyle, who was handling the play-by-play duties for the entirety of the game.
“Now batting, Gino ‘Long Ball’ Gratolo!” he spatted.
After working the count for several pitches, the lefty didn’t disappoint as he sent a rocket over the right field fence that cleared Bryden St with ease.
“I just crushed one,” he said after the at-bat. “That was about 450 feet.”
Later in the game, Gratolo just missed another homer as he clipped the top of the fence in right field. But he wasn’t the only player making noise in the first inning.
For the Phillies, Bobby Jones of Wilkes-Barre, rightfully so donning a Ryan Howard t-shirt, made the Yankees aware of his power prior to stepping into the batter’s box
“Back up,” he yelled to the opposing players.
He proceeded to clear the bases with a shot that caromed off the wall in left. And without warning, Eric Davis, Swoyersville, and Pittston’s Michael Lewis each cracked one to the wall to end the inning.
The Victory games are all about helping each other out. At times, opposing players would race toward home plate to help the other batters. And one duo started off the first inning in style.
Amanda Yaglowski, Larksville, opened the inning with a single. She was aided to first base by her boyfriend, Tony Russo. Russo is a Yatesville resident.
But lets not forget the work these players did in the field. With every batted ball, the defense swarmed to the cork, eventually getting the ball back in the pitcher’s hands.
On several occasions, Yankee shortstop Chris Rineheimer, Plymouth, made Gold Golve-like plays. Then, Russo did his work to end the second inning with a leaping grab in short left.
“It’s nice to be able to help her out,” Russo said. “It’s hot today thought. I’ll try and hit one over the fence.”
Matt Berry, who was appointed the men’s basketball coach at LCCC last fall, was the designated pitcher throughout the game. And believe it or not, he failed to record an out.
And as the game went on, Berry’s control look like it may have been weakening. On fan shouted, “Take your sunglassess of so you can see!” That brought at smile to Berry’s face.
“My ERA is about 28 now,” Berry laughed. “So I’ll have to get to work.”
Berry is the brother to Elizabeth and Chris Berry, both of Pringle, who powered the Phillies squad. Berry’s father used to pitch to the Victory players. But it was time for the younger Berry to take the reigns.
“It’s just a rewarding experience,” Matt Berry said. “You go from being real competitive during games and practices to coming down here and watching this.”
Following the game, the players were treated to a dance at a nearby pavilion. Provided was pizza, hot dogs, and all the musical entertainment these ballplayers could ask for.
The league will continue throughout the summer in Pittston Township. So if you’re looking for some good old-fashion baseball, with a laugh here or there, come on out every Thursday evening. For more information on the Victory or Challenger Baseball leagues, call 655-8224.
Shannon Bailey, Wilkes-Barre
Jared Bellas, Ashley
Eric Berlew, Dallas
Joey Bubblo, West Wyoming
Thomas Casey, Dallas
Joseph Chopyak, Pittston
Gino Gratolo, Avoca
Brandon Harvey, Larksville
Charles Hillard, Edwardsville
John Hoops, Plymouth
Heather Hughes, Wilkes-Barre
Stephen Jones, Shavertown
Tim Kelly, Pittston
Daniel Kumor, Duryea
Tiffanie Moska, Jenkins Twp.
Edward Orlosky, Avoca
Chris Rineheimer, Plymouth
Tony Russo, Yatesville
Gerard Wazeter, Trucksville
Christine Wesley, Dupont
Amanda Yaglowski, Larksville
Chris Berry, Pringle
Elizabeth Berry, Pringle
James Bonchonsky, Exeter
April Cross, Edwardsville
Kali Dadurka, Forty Fort
Eric Davis, Swoyersville
Walter Eaton, Swoyersville
Matthew Echalk, Duryea
Robert Flaherty, Hanover Twp.
Darryl Herman, Dupont
Joey Hoffman, Nanticoke
Bobby Jones, Wilkes-Barre
TJ Jump, Plains
Michael Lewis, Pittston
Robert Lynch, Pittston
Robbie Reich, Forty Fort
Kasey Riley, Plains
Marc Roan, Larksville
Michael Sabol, Dallas
Grayson Schaub, Drums
Andrew Stier, Mountain Top
AJ Warakomski, Mountain Top
Christie Warakomski, Mountain Top