Respect for Rebels at Cooperstown
Cooperstown, NY – The NBNM Rebels returned last week from the birthplace of baseball, Cooperstown, NY, where they participated in a once-in-a-lifetime week of baseball and brotherhood. One hundred four teams from throughout the US joined them at beautiful Cooperstown Dreams Park for Week 11 2012 and an experience like no other. In addition to the many team pins and friendships, the Little League team from North Bellmore North Merrick collected six victories and some well-earned respect on the ball field.
The festivities started Friday afternoon with checking in and setting up the barracks. It came as no surprise to anyone that Coach Sam provided the planning and materials to make this process as efficient as possible and, soon after, the team had set up their bunks and foot lockers. It was clear the Rebels were psyched to get started on their week of living and playing together. Before dark, the frenzy known as pin-trading had begun as the CDP Baseball Village teemed with the wheeling and dealing of team-representative hardware. The players returned to cabin 53A in time for showers and 10:30 ‘lights-out’ and, after the requisite horse-play, turned in for their first night.
A long Saturday started with some breakfast at the family pavilion, more pin-trading, and a practice. Then it was back to the village for orientation (where we all learned some rules for the week as well as the impressive number of decibels that can be generated by about 2,500 12-year-old hands banging on plastic tables under a massive tent).
After filing out and grabbing a bite, it was back to the barracks to don the uni and line up for the opening ceremonies. As the massive procession headed toward Little Majors Stadium the players could hear the PA announcer call everyone’s attention to the skies where a three-man parachute team leaped from a perfectly well-functioning plane to perform aerobatics en route to dropping onto the championship field with the ball for the first pitch that would get this week of baseball started. After all the teams were announced and assembled in the stadium, it was time for the skills competitions followed by some time to roam the village and a good night’s sleep before game play on Sunday.
The Rebels pool play started Sunday morning at 11:00 against NJ Nexxt Level. This was a very winnable game for NBNM as starting pitcher Brian Porricelli cruised through three scoreless innings. But the Rebels could only manage one run of their own. Michael Proios pitched an easy fourth and his defense helped him through the fifth as NBNM clung to the 1-0 lead. The top of the sixth was the Rebels undoing when Nick Valeriano was touched up for six hits and Matt Conry committed a costly error allowing Nexxt Level to put up a 5-spot. NBNM managed to push one across in the bottom but lost 5-2.
With their next game scheduled for 7:00, the Rebels checked out of CDP and traveled into town to visit the hallowed National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. After a few hours appreciating much baseball greatness, the team headed back to Baseball Village to get their own game play back on track.
They took the field at the #11 diamond to face the Glenmoore Gladiators from PA. The visiting Rebels were sparked by a lead-off double from Jack Delaney. Delaney stole second and third and scored on a ground out by Billy McAdam to take the early lead. As the starting pitcher, Delaney was effective, as well, keeping the Gladiators scoreless through his three innings of work. Meanwhile, NBNM posted 2 runs in the second on a walk to Valeriano, a sac bunt by Matt Coster and a double by Eric Solomon, and then 2 more in the third with a Delaney single and a 2-run home run by Porricelli to go ahead 5-0. Matt Conry pitched no-hit ball in the fourth and fifth striking out 4. The Rebels turned it up a notch in their half of fourth inning when a lead-off walk to Solomon, and infield hit by Proios, a single by Kevin McCleneghan, a single by Matt Nilsen, a single by McAdam, and a single by Alec Acri led to 6 more runs and pushed the lead to 11-0. In the sixth, NBNM got hits from Delaney and McAdam but failed to score. Eric Solomon came on to close it allowing a run on a walk, 2 wild pitches and a ground out, but got the final out on a ground out that went 6-3, Delaney-to-McCleneghan, for an 11-1 final.
The Rebels were looking to capitalize on the momentum from their previous convincing victory when they met the Stamford Warriors from CT Monday morning at 11:00. They very quickly had their work cut out for them when the Warriors got to starter McCleneghan right out of the gate with a 3-run homer and a 2-run homer and a 5-0 lead in the middle of the first inning. When NBNM failed to score in their half and Stamford added another run on 3 hits in the second to extend their lead to 6-0, things looked bleak. Conry led off the Rebels’ second with a single and a stolen base and scored on a Coster double to get on the board. Valeriano, running for Coster, advanced on a ground out then scored on a wild pitch to make it 6-2 after two. Proios, having taken the hill, got Stamford out 1-2-3 in the third. Despite an infield hit by Solomon to lead off the bottom of the third inning, and a walk to Delaney, the Rebels failed to score. After the Warriors again went 1-2-3 in the fourth, NBNM turned things around. Conry got things started with a one-out single up the middle followed by a walk to Valeriano. When Coster struck out the Rebels were hoping for a two-out rally — and, with the help of some wild Stamford pitching, got it. McCleneghan drew a walk and Nilsen singled, scoring Conry and Valeriano. Solomon walked to load the bases. Then Proios walked, scoring McCleneghan, Delaney walked, scoring Nilsen, McAdam singled to center driving in Solomon, Acri walked, scoring Proios, and Porricelli blasted a grand slam over the center field wall to put the Rebels ahead 12-6. The Warriors went down 1-2-3 in the fifth on three ground balls. In the bottom of the fifth, after looking at two strikes to go down 0-2, Valeriano saw one he liked and propelled it over the wall in left center field for his first career homerun, much love from his teammates, and a 13-6 lead. Next, Coster, McCleneghan and Nilsen each singled to extend the lead to 14-6 and Proios hit a sac fly to right to score McCleneghan, 15-6. Stamford managed a mini-rally in the sixth with a lead-off home run, an error and a pair of singles to score three but Proios worked out of it for a 15-9 final.
Monday afternoon, NBNM drew the Maine Black Flies (who had a most impressive pin, BTW). The visiting Rebels jumped out to a quick lead when a Delaney walk and a base hit by McAdam set the table for a 3-run bomb to right by Porricelli. The Flies grabbed two back in the home half on three singles and wild pitch from starting pitcher Acri. NBNM made it 4-2 in the second when a lead-off walk to McCleneghan and two stolen bases led to a successful suicide squeeze bunt by Proios. Maine threatened in the bottom when the first three batters reached. But Acri induced a shallow fly ball and a 4-4-3 double play to strand all three base runners. The teams traded zeroes in the third, fourth and fifth, though the Flies threatened once again in the fifth when they loaded the bases on three straight one-out hits. But reliever Valeriano got Maine’s three-hitter to ground into an inning-ending 6-4-3 double play. NBNM added some insurance in the top of the sixth when singles by Acri, Conry and Valeriano extend the Rebels lead to 6-2. Maine managed two base runners in the bottom but, bearing down, Valeriano struck out the side to end it.
Next up was an early game at 8:30 Tuesday morning against the Whitman Panthers from MA. Scouting reports suggested this was one of the weaker teams in the tournament. The Rebels took the opportunity to try some new looks, defensively and offensively, and change things up. NBNM starting pitcher Solomon kept the Panthers scoreless in the first. In the home half, with the Rebels reversing their batting order, they converted a hit batsman, error, walk, single by McCleneghan, and ill-advised throws into a 4-0 lead. After a scoreless second inning for both teams, Coster, in relief, put Whitman down quietly in the third. In the bottom half, Nilsen walked on four pitches, stole two bases and scored when Coster reached on a dropped thrid strike. After Solomon reached on an error and McCleneghan walked, Valeriano singled to drive in one. Conry followed with a double to center knocking in McCleneghan and Valeriano. Porricelli scorched a single to right to bring home Conry. A McAdam single scored Porricelli. A walk to Delaney and a wild pitch put runners at second and third, and two more wild pitches let them score bringing the Rebels lead to 13-0 after three. Coster sat the Panthers down 1-2-3 in the fourth to end the game by run rule.
Pool play concluded for the Rebels Tuesday 1:45 with a final game against a tough West Hills Scrappers team from CA. Fortunately, NBNM played some of their best baseball in this game. A lead-off walk to Delaney and a single by McAdam put Rebels at first and second. Then, just like you’d draw it up, a sac bunt by Acri moved both runners into scoring position and a clean single to center by Porricelli knocked in two. A stolen base by Porricelli and a base hit by Valeriano gave NBNM the early 3-0 lead. A two-base error and a single in the home half got West Hills on the board, 3-1 after one. Both teams failed to score in the second. Solomon led off the third for the Rebels with a single to left followed by an infield hit for Proios. Delaney then executed a successful sacrifice to put runners at second and third with one out. McAdam then laid down a successful squeeze scoring Solomon and advancing Proios to third. Proios scored on a wild pitch and NBNM took a 5-1 into the middle of the third. Rebels starter Delaney sat the Scrappers down in order in their third on just 4 pitches. Porricelli led off the fourth reaching on a two-base error. Conry knocked an RBI single up the middle for a 6-1 lead. Conry stole second and scored on a base hit by Valeriano, who was thrown out stretching for a double. The score remained 7-1 into the bottom of the fifth. Five singles then brought West Hills back into it, 7-3, after five. Porricelli led off the Rebels sixth with a frozen rope solo shot, 8-4. With Acri on in relief, he picked up a quick out but then a single and an error made things interesting. NBNM brought in Porricelli who allowed a hard hit single to center to load the bases and bring the tying run to the plate. Porky nabbed the second out hurling three swings and misses. The next batter drew a walk after fouling off three pitches in a very tough at-bat to get the score to 8-5. Porricelli then got the final out on a ground ball that went 4-3, McAdam to Valeriano.
Tuesday afternoon featured a team get-together at ‘the big yellow house’, where most of the team’s families were staying. The moms set up a catered buffet, there were cold drinks, horseshoes, football, a home run derby (dominated by Coach Al) at a nearby ball field and host of other family fun and good times. When the coaches suggested, as it became clear from the standings there’d be no day games to play Wednesday, that the kids separate and stay out of the barracks and with their families for a good, long sleep Tuesday night, the boys formed a posse around the coaches and explained that they were here to be together and they promised to sleep-in Wednesday morning if they could stay together in the barracks Tuesday night. That was pretty cool (and Coach Bob’s highlight moment of the trip).
As the pool games were completed throughout the tournament into Tuesday night, standings were calculated to determine the seeding for Wednesday’s and Thursday’s play-off rounds. When all was tallied the NBNM Rebels, with a record of 5-1 and a runs-against average of 3.67 held a very respectable #18 seed. This meant NBNM need win no more than two play-off games to make it to the final play-off round Thursday (lower seeds would need to play as many as five games Wednesday!). The Rebels would wait to face the 98, 97, 54, or 47 seed after they duked it out in early rounds.
The eventual opponent at 5:30 on Wednesday was the #54 seed Wellesley Raiders from MA. NBNM starting pitcher Proios kept the Raiders scoreless in the first. A walk to McAdam, a misplayed ball in left off the bat of Porricelli and a balk led to a 1-0 Rebels lead after one. After Wellesley went quietly in the second NBNM got things going in the bottom with a single by Valeriano and a walk to McCleneghan. A single by Solomon drove in Valeriano and McCleneghan went to third on the throw home. Then a wild pitch allowed McCleneghan to score and Solomon to move up. After Proios reached on an error, a Coster sacrifice moved the runners up and Solomon later scored on a sac fly by Nilsen. Finally, a base hit by Delaney knocked in Proios to give the Rebels a 5-0 lead. Two singles in the Wellesley third got the Raiders on the board, 5-1. Alec Acri got that run right back when he led off the Rebels third with a home run to center, 6-1. Proios kept Wellesley off the board in the fourth. Base hits by Proios and Nilsen set up an RBI single by Delaney to move the score to 7-1 after four. Proios struck out the side in the fifth and Conry, in relief, put them down 1-2-3 in the sixth to seal the play-off victory.
As the bracket played itself out, the next opponent was #15 seed All American Pride from FL. It was eminently clear that the Pride were a high-caliber team. The Rebels led off with a walk by Delaney. But Delaney was quickly caught stealing and the Rebels went down in order. NBNM starter Valeriano got into trouble early. After yielding a lead-off walk and a hard single to center, Pride’s three-hitter dropped a three-run shot over the center field wall for the early lead. Faced next with man-child (6’4", 220lb) four-hitter TJ Ben, Valeriano, as instructed, pitched around him allowing a four-pitch walk. When the five-hitter went yard to move the Pride lead to 5-0, the Rebels turned to Porricelli to put out the fire and he retired the next three in order. In the Rebels second, Conry lined a one-out single to left to get things started. Valeriano followed with a walk. McCleneghan then hit a hard ground ball through the right side for a single. With his back to the play and the throw behind him, Conry was caught rounding third and tagged for the second out. Solomon grounded out to second and suddenly NBNM’s biggest scoring threat had fizzled. Other than a McAdam single in the Rebels’ fourth and Conry reaching on a dropped third strike to lead off the fifth, no other batters for either team reached base the rest of the way. Porricelli was nothing less than magnificent retiring all fifteen batters that he faced, racking up 11 Ks along the way. The 5-0 loss dropped NBNM out of the single-elimination tournament. (All American Pride went on to win four games on Thursday to become the CDP Week #11 Champion)
All in all it was a pretty good showing for the North Bellmore North Merrick Little League All-Stars and the kids had an absolute blast rooming together and patrolling the village. It was a wonderful shared experience for all involved and we were all fortunate to be a part of it. And it’s a great way for us to close the incredible book on the NBNM Rebels and look forward to the next chapters in these great boys’ baseball lives.