Holbrook Brings Home Memories

Photo courtesy Holbrook Little League

JACKSON – If the Holbrook Little League All-Stars are asked to write essays for school about how they spent their summer vacations, the compositions will be interesting to say the least.

There were four championships for the Jackson Township team. There was a trip to the Little League Baseball World Series in South Williamsport, Pa., where the team was 2-2 in the United States Bracket.

There was recognition on ESPN, ABC, ESPN 2, other television and radio stations, social media and in print.

Photo courtesy Holbrook Little League

There were seats at the MLB Little League Classic in which the Pittsburgh Pirates hosted the St. Louis Cardinals at the BB&T Ballpark at Historic Bowman Field in Williamsport. There was plenty of mingling with the players. There was interaction with international players.

There was the hitting of Chris Cartnick (.571, 8-for-14, three homers in four games).

There were the watch parties at the Jackson chapter of the Knights of Columbus.

There was an 8-6 win over Italy that gave Holbrook fourth place in the eight-team United States Bracket and a seventh-place finish in the LLBWS. Not too shabby considering there are more than 5,000 Little Leagues in the United States and more than 7,000 in the world. The International Bracket consisted of eight clubs.

There was an escort from the Jackson Township Police Department from Interstate 195 to the Holbrook complex where food and drinks were provided to the team Sunday night.

Ryan Kinsman, John Grano, Dean Daddio, Chris Andrews, Mike Arent, Charlie Meglio, Andy Osmond, Garrett Drew, R.J. Vashey, Tai Mann, Cartnick, J.R. Osmond and Anthony Abbonizio came away with memories that will last a lifetime.

Three players supplied their memories.

The Holbrook team befriended the team from Japan. (Photo courtesy Holbrook Little League)

Outfielder Grano: “When I was on that field, it sounded like a bomb went off when Cartnick hit a double in the gap (against the Great Lakes champion from Michigan). It was the loudest roar I have ever heard from a crowd. It just felt like something I will never forget. When someone says something is electric, I actually felt what electric is like. When Chris hit that double, it almost opened up a flood gate.

“In addition to our fans, the Pennsylvania fans rooted for us because we were the Mid-Atlantic champions. I met a lot of fans and signed a lot of autographs. I made a diving catch in a game. I signed everything – pieces of paper, shirts and the back of a little kid who had no shirt on. Signing autographs was amazing. It feels like you are a celebrity for seven days. It is awesome.

“I really enjoyed the major-league game. I got to sit with (Pittsburgh outfielder Andrew) McCutchen on their team’s bus. We had perfect seats at the field and it was a good game to watch. It was perfect.

“You could not have asked for more. I got him to sign my glove. I sat with him on the bus for 25 minutes. We talked about baseball and his favorite parks to hit in. I loved him. He knew how to interact with the kids and was really nice. I wanted to learn from him and he wanted to learn a little bit from me.

“I told him of my Series experience. We got to play ping pong with most of the major-league players. This experience is going to impact my life drastically. I was in pressure situations. I learned how to come out of them and how to win. That will help me in life.”

The boys returned to a hero’s welcome at their Little League field. (Photo courtesy Holbrook Little League)

Pitcher-third baseman-outfielder Daddio: “Well, my favorite memory of the Series was the night we won the championship of the regionals and knowing we were going to The Promised Land. We did not sleep on the bus from Connecticut to Williamsport as we were just so excited. Our team and Fairfield (Ct., which eliminated Holbrook from title contention in the LLBWS) wound up on the bus together. We talked to each other like we were friends.

“Even when we lost to them, their kids shook our hands and said, ‘You guys are a good team.’ My dad (Gene Daddio, a Holbrook coach) has always told me, ‘Sportsmanship is more key than winning as you want to act right. You don’t want anyone to think badly about you.’ We were quote, unquote like friends and they came up to us and acted like friends to us.

“I loved the major-league game. We sat next to the Pirates on the bus and (catcher Francisco) Cervelli gave me his phone number. It was a very fun time just meeting all of the players. It was a once in a lifetime chance to meet the major-league players and the fact we were next to them was just spectacular.

The boys returned to a hero’s welcome at their Little League field. (Photo courtesy Holbrook Little League)

“Playing ping-pong with them was fun. I got a ton of autographs from them. The Pirates signed my team hat. About 10 or so players, including McCutcheon, signed it. I signed a Mid-Atlantic team hat for Cervelli and he said he would put it in his house. He signed a pair of batting gloves for me.

“I knew I was going to be interviewed on ESPN (for a segment) and it was fun. The fact I was on ESPN for a reason other than playing in a baseball game was breath taking. It was so weird seeing myself on television. I don’t tend to be nervous. I act the same way whether one person is watching me or if one million people are watching me. When you are playing on the field, you don’t notice the millions of people. You are just playing your own game.

“The fact we did not win the whole thing does not tarnish the memories. They are still the same. We had a good time as we knew we were in The Promised Land. The town supported us in a big way. After every game win or lose they still had our backs as they said good job and stuff. The whole state and the whole Mid-Atlantic region were behind us.

“We interacted with the other teams in our dorms. We were next to Japan and that was real fun. We traded pins, T-shirts, old bats and fielding gloves. A player from Japan gave me a team T-shirt and an old pair of batting gloves. I received a ton of toys from Japan, including a sumo wrestler bobble head doll.

“We were upset to see it end, but when we get back to Jackson and school begins, everyone will talk to us as their heroes and idols. They will ask us about our experiences. This was the summer dream of a lifetime for a kid.”

Photo courtesy Holbrook Little League

Pitcher-shortstop Cartnick: “I will mostly remember the crowds and how when we made a big play it became crazy loud like insane. Some people may look at it as pressure, but we were just kids to the fans. When we hit home runs, it was crazy and a great experience.

“It’s good to be well known, but I keep my focus on the game – not on social media. I try to help my team out. Being in the Series is one thing and to win a couple of games is amazing. I met McCutcheon and his teammates and the whole St. Louis team. They were in an eating area at (Howard J. Lamade Stadium) and I met them there. I did not focus on getting autographs. I talked to their manager and to some of their other players. I talked about our success and they said they were watching us in the regions and stuff. It was great to hear that.

“Now that the team and I are well known, it will boost everyone’s confidence. The biggest crowd was like 25,000 when we beat the Great Lakes team and it was great. Everyone will know we beat Great Lakes by the Mercy Rule.”

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Chris Christopher covers sports for Micromedia Publications Inc. with knowledge, pride and passion. His beats are the high school, college, professional, youth and recreational scenes. A three-time New Jersey Press Association award winner for sports writing, Christopher was inducted into the Shore Football Coaches Foundation Hall of Fame in 2015 for his work in the media. The Lakewood resident enjoys taking walks in Ocean County Park and on the boardwalks in Ocean and Monmouth counties and rooting for the New York Mets.