A run on optimism

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Last month’s massive snowfall has finally melted away, but it took some preparation for the Public League baseball season along with it.

Opening day had been scheduled for today, but soggy field conditions and a run of frigid weather prevented outdoor practices, pushing the start of the season back to Monday.

That just means local squads will be all the more anxious to return to baseball. And so will their fans. Here’s a team-by-team look at the 2003 season.

Team: GAMP Pioneers
Coach: Art Kratchman
Division: A
Home field: Seventh Street and Packer Avenue

The Girard Academic Music Program had all summer, fall and winter to bask in the glory of its first-ever Public League championship. Now it’s time to defend the crown. How will they handle the pressure? Do they have what it takes to win two in a row? Will they be able to replace the five seniors from last year’s team?

Kratchman and his players will find out the answers soon enough. But a surefire legacy of last season is that opposing teams realize they can no longer overlook the local squad. The Pioneers have mastered the art of finishing among the elite with four straight semifinal appearances. Last year was the second time in three seasons that GAMP played for the Public League title.

"They think [playing at La Salle in June] is part of the schedule," Kratchman said of his players. "They really don’t know what they’ve accomplished. I am excited and anxious to see what we have coming into the season."

2002 recap: After finishing the regular season 5-9, the Pioneers defeated Northeast High 8-6 in the championship game, earning GAMP its first title in any sport.

On the mound: GAMP has three experienced pitchers back from last year’s championship team in seniors Mario Malatino and Anthony Caines and sophomore Vinny Evangelista.

In the field: Also key to the squad are Gabe Natale, sophomore shortstop; Paul LaBruna, junior third baseman; David Scirrotto, senior left-fielder; Dominic DeMarco, sophomore catcher; Matt Nulty, junior infielder-outfielder; and Ryan Challender, freshman outfielder-first baseman.

Teams to beat: Washington, Northeast, Frankford and Central

Goals: Advance to the Public League semifinals.

Coach’s outlook: "I guess for the kids and myself, it would be a disappointment if we didn’t get back to the championship game. We lost five seniors off the championship team, which is a major concern for us."


Team: Bok Wildcats
Coach: Tom DeFelice
Division: B
Home field: 11th and Bigler streets

Like Philadelphia Phillies teams of the past, the Wildcats find themselves opening the season with a lot of questions about pitching. Would-be junior starters Justin Lannutti and Joe Ancello are no longer attending Bok, leading DeFelice to hold open auditions.

"We are going to experiment with everyone," the coach said. "Hopefully, someone will step up."

The young nucleus of returning players still has a lot to feel good about after taking the eventual-champion GAMP Pioneers the distance in last season’s quarterfinal contest. Bok had the bases loaded with two outs in the seventh, but came up two runs short of making its first-ever trip to the Public League semifinals.

2002 recap: The Wildcats finished fourth in Division B with an 8-6 record before losing 6-4 to GAMP in the quarterfinals.

On the mound: Sophomores Joe DeSalis and Rasheed Fleming.

In the field: Cedric Green, junior catcher; LaMotta, sophomore second baseman; DeSalis, shortstop, and Fleming, infielder-outfielder.

Teams to beat: Mastbaum, Olney and Edison

Goals: Get a few wins, make the playoffs and stay healthy.

Coach’s outlook: "I can’t foresee us not improving. Hopefully, our attitude will be upbeat."


Team: Furness Falcons
Coach: Bob Weidinger
Division: B
Home field: 11th and Bigler streets

When the Falcons finished the 2002 season tied for last place in Division B, they had the option of dropping to Division C. But when Engineering and Science elected to take the demotion instead, Weidinger had no problem with staying in the tougher bracket.

"[Division B] is better competition and is better for the kids," he said.

The team’s greatest challenge will be replacing All-Public catcher Ed Daly, who graduated, and pitcher Tim McKenzie, who dropped off the team.

With a record 20 athletes trying out, Weidinger has a nice-sized pool to draw from. The coach is particularly impressed that all of the players are showing up for the 7 a.m. practices and staying until 5 p.m. during afternoon sessions.

2002 recap: The Falcons finished tied for last in Division B with a 1-13 record, and were eliminated in the first round of the Public League playoffs.

On the mound: Juniors Dave Harris and Will Pendleton and senior Ed Jakubowski.

In the field: Ralph Didio, sophomore first baseman; Anthony Esposito, junior second baseman; Chris Schmanek, sophomore second baseman-shortstop; Jonathan Rohrbach, junior third baseman; Michael Rohrbach, sophomore outfielder.

Teams to beat: Mastbaum, Olney and Edison

Goals: Learn the game, be more competitive than last year and make the playoffs.

Coach’s outlook: "As long as they have a good attitude and try hard, I’ll be happy."


Team: Prep Charter Huskies
Coach: Shawn Magee
Division: C
Home field: Smith Playground, 25th and Jackson streets

Prep Charter will be playing its first season in the Public League, so why not try for the playoffs? The Lady Huskies girls’ basketball team showed it could be done earlier this year when it finished second in the Bronze Division.

Making the jump from junior varsity to varsity competition, as required by Public League rules, is a big adjustment. But Magee believes his team is ready to compete against the best.

Since first-year squads open the season in Division C, Prep Charter won’t have to face Washington, Frankford, Northeast, Central and GAMP, who are all yearly championship contenders. If the Huskies play as good as their coach predicts they will, they could climb to Division B next season.

"All the older guys are excited that they now have something to play for," Magee said.

2002 recap: Played a junior-varsity schedule, finishing with a 5-4 record.

Key players: The Huskies have eight players returning from last year’s squad, including Lenny Cavalier, junior catcher; Steven McCann, junior pitcher-second baseman; Kevin O’Donnell, junior pitcher-shortstop; Jay Grover, senior outfielder; James Valadka, junior outfielder; and Pete Lerro, sophomore infielder.

Goals: Win the Division C title.

Coach’s outlook: "I see us being very competitive. For the first year, I am expecting everything, but how far we go, I don’t know."


Team: Southern Rams
Coach: Eric Weinstein
Division: C
Home field: 11th and Bigler streets

Weinstein is taking over Southern’s baseball program from Lou D’Alonzo, who resigned from the post. The team is coming off a very respectable 9-4 season, which included a third-place finish in Division C and a playoff spot. Fels eliminated the local squad in the preliminary round. The coach couldn’t be reached for more details by press time.

Teams to beat: E&S; and Kensington


Catholic League

Team: St. John Neumann Pirates
Coach: Gaeton Lucibello
Division: Southern
Home field: 26th and Moore streets

The Pirates are thinking Catholic League title. No matter that this is the same Neumann squad that won just four games in 2002.

Lucibello, entering his third season as Neumann’s head coach, said his players have the right stuff this year.

"I think this is the best team Neumann has had since I’ve been here," said Lucibello, who said that includes his four seasons as assistant coach.

The team is literally going the extra mile to prepare. The athletes left for Boca Raton, Fla., last night for three games under the sun. The coach isn’t as concerned about the scores in preseason contests as he is about developing team chemistry.

"We have the perfect opportunity to go away for four days and come together as a team," Lucibello said.

2002 recap: The Pirates finished seventh in the Southern Division with a 4-14 record, missing the Catholic League playoffs.

Key players: Justin Lannutti has returned to Neumann after spending his sophomore season at Bok. His brother Christian, a sophomore, is back with a year of varsity experience. Juniors Christian Meccariello and Jonathan Brady, along with seniors Billy Sheridan and Michael Clancy, also will play their share of innings.

Tom Daly, senior catcher; Jimmy Porreca, senior first baseman; Vito Cianci, junior second baseman; Joe Camperchioli, senior third baseman; and Billy Canady, junior center-fielder, are other key components of the team.

Teams to beat: Kennedy-Kenrick, Carroll, O’Hara and Bonner

Goals: Win the Catholic League title.

Coach’s outlook: "I know we have enough talent to win here. I honestly believe we can win the Catholic League title this year." 8


Public League 2002 Baseball Standings

Division A

Frankford 14-0
Washington 10-4
Northeast 10-4
Central 8-6
GAMP 5-9
Roxborough 4-10
Bartram 3-11
Edison 2-12

Division B

Lincoln 12-2
Mastbaum 1-3
Olney 10-4
Bok 8-6
Saul 7-7
Fels 6-8
Furness 1-13
E&S; 1-13

Division C

FLC 13-0
Kensington 11-2
Southern 9-4
Lamberton 8-5
King 8-5
West Philadelphia 8-5
Germantown 7-5-1
Dobbins 5-7-1
Gratz 5-8
Overbrook 4-8-1
Penn 4-9
University City 3-10
Franklin 2-10-1
Strawberry Mansion 1-10-2


Catholic League South 2002 Baseball Standings

Carroll 14-4
O’Hara 14-4
Bonner 13-4
Kennedy-Kenrick 12-5
Roman 9-9
SJ Prep 9-9
Neumann 4-14
West 0-18