Makes It Through Challenging Season
By Steven Zaitz
Apparently, there is crying in baseball.
Just ask Richard Tomitz, who is the head coach of Philly Pretzel Factory in the St. James-Smithtown Little League. When his son Derek threw the final strike in the minors’ championship game Aug. 30 at Gaynor Park in St. James, Tomitz was overcome with emotion.
“I have to admit, when the umpire yelled ‘strike three’ and the game was over, it brought a tear to my eye,” Tomitz said. “When I really think about it, this baseball season has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever been a part of in my entire life.”
Quite an extraordinary statement, but only if looked at in a vacuum. Considering Tomitz, who also serves as president of the league, his feelings of exaltation come not just from his team’s championship, but also from the fact there was a season at all. With the coronavirus sucking so much joy out of everyday life across Long Island and throughout the world, it is not lost upon Tomitz and his fellow league board members that playing baseball in 2020 helped restore at least a modicum of that joy.
“For everyone involved — players, coaches, parents — it was a good distraction and it gave everyone a chance to get out into the fresh air and compete,” said Steve Friscia, who is the league’s coaches coordinator, ran much of the league’s logistics and in 2019 was a win or two away from bringing our own SJSLL team of 12 year olds to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, where they would have competed in the Little League World Series.
He and his colleagues on the board were extremely careful when they were given the green light to play in July and strictly enforced a long list of pandemic-related protocols throughout the year.
“The community was great,” Friscia said. “Everyone distanced and wore masks, and the parents who came down were spread apart. We switched out balls and were very careful with water bottles. It really took a village to make sure everyone stuck to the rules and it allowed us to have a successful season.”
Another coach and league board member, Steve Zummo, who coached in both the major (ages 11 and 12) and minor league (ages 9 and 10) championship games on this perfect Sunday for baseball, also recognized what playing baseball meant to the kids of this town.
“This day is incredibly uplifting and incredibly important,” Zummo said. “On a beautiful day like this to be able to culminate the season with everything we all have been through, this baseball season has been nothing short of 100% success. I’m not saying it wasn’t without challenges, but definitely challenges that were worth taking on.”
For the record, Zummo’s 11- and 12-year-old youngsters on the Schubert’s Auto Body squad lost 13-8, despite taking an 8-0 lead. Luke Mercardante of Universal Testing & Inspection stroked a home run to lead the comeback charge and pitched the final three innings without allowing a run.
“We’ve been making comebacks all year,” said the young Mercardante, as he was mobbed by his teammates. “We never lost hope.”
It cannot be confirmed, as the records do not go back to 1957 — the league’s first year — but it is believed to be the largest comeback in SJSLL championship game history. In the minor league championship, Philly Pretzel Factory beat Long Island Hearing, 8-1, ending an unforgettable Little League baseball season in a year, for the most part, we’d all like to forget.