Major opportunity


Caitlyn Smith, Ashley Pasquerella and Shara Borelli walk into Dunkin’ Donuts wearing their red, white and blue Barry Sluggers jerseys. An elderly gentleman enjoying his morning cup of coffee asks the girls what team they play for and when their next game is.

When they tell him they’ll be competing in the Philadelphia Department of Recreation’s 14-and-under all-star game at Veterans Stadium, the friendly stranger picks up their breakfast tab and reserves the date on his calendar.

Today at 1 p.m., the trio, along with South Philly teammate Chrissy DiStefano, will make their debut at the Vet. They plan to live up to the name of their team — the Sluggers — by each hitting a home run.

"I am going to take a lot of practice swings," said Smith, who plays first base.

These four athletes displayed their hitting power during the regular season, each helping the first-year squad advance to last month’s Department of Recreation championship game. Smith and Pasquerella led the Sluggers with five home runs apiece, while Borelli had four and DiStefano tallied a key grand slam. Of course, clearing the Veterans Stadium fences will be a bit more challenging than hitting one out of local playgrounds.

Even if they don’t hit a home run, the girls are sure to treasure their all-star appearance — and the rare and quickly disappearing opportunity to play at the Vet.

"It’s really special to be on the team," said Pasquerella, who plays third base. "I am happy and excited."

Playing at the Vet is a fitting finish to a 13-3 season. Despite losing to the Port Richmond Leprechauns in the city championship game, the players went much further than expected.

Pasquerella and Borelli know about facing tough competition from their Catholic Youth Organization teams. In June, Borelli’s St. Nicholas of Tolentine squad defeated Pasquerella’s St. Monica to win its first-ever CYO crown. The friends said they definitely prefer being teammates to being opponents.

"It was really hard pitching to her," Borelli said of Pasquerella. "I didn’t want to strike her out, but I had to try."

They ended up striking each other out in the championship game. Borelli, who works with a pitching coach every Sunday, finished the summer 9-2 with 49 strikeouts and 13 walks. The Hallahan-bound freshman credits her dad and coach Mike Borelli for helping her develop into the all-star athlete. The two spend their summer mornings practicing at Marconi Plaza. The team practices get more intense, as the elder Borelli expects perfection out of the Sluggers’ ace pitcher.

"When she makes a mistake, I am so hard on her," the coach said. "At dinner, my wife usually has to break up the arguments."

But Shara, 13, appreciates the time her dad has dedicated to teaching the game.

"If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be here," she said.

Borelli’s teammates readily admit they would rather not face the windmill pitcher.

"She is very hard to hit off of because she pitches so fast," said DiStefano, a St. Maria Goretti student who plays first base.

DiStefano provided defensive support for the Sluggers with near-flawless fielding — one error, to be exact. The performance caught her coach’s attention.

"She improved 110 percent from the beginning of the year until the end of the year," Mike Borelli said. "Her defense was tremendous all year."

Smith was the offensive leader with a team-high 28 hits, while Pasquerella and Shara Borelli tallied 22 RBI apiece. The comprehensive effort carried the Sluggers to the city championship game.

The athletes consider each other best friends. During the season, they enjoy game-night pizza or Chinese food courtesy of their coach, and recently spent a week at the Jersey Shore.

"They are funny when I am with them," Borelli said of her teammates. "I can’t stop laughing."

Three of the girls — Smith, Borelli and Pasquerella — will attend Hallahan in the fall, where they will again be teammates. It’s the first time all three will be at the same school.

"It’s going to be fun playing together again," Smith said.

DiStefano will have to wait until next summer to be reunited with the Sluggers as she heads into her sophomore year at Goretti. The struggling Lambs softball team will surely welcome her experience.

All four athletes are pretty confident of repeating their successful season with the Sluggers next year — with one exception.

"We are going to win the city championship next year," Shara Borelli said.