After 30 years, District 7 flag flies high over proud Jersey City complex
The year was 1973. The Watergate investigation grabbed the headlines. "All in the Family" topped the Nielsen ratings. The "You Gotta Believe" Mets were on their way from going worst to first, winning the National League championship.Paul Newman and Robert Redford starred in the Academy Award-winning Best Picture "The Sting." Tony Orlando and Dawn had the year's top single with "Tie a Yellow Ribbon." Paul McCartney and his new band called Wings were busy recording "Band on the Run."
And Lincoln Park Little League rode a mammoth slugger named Scott Dorsey, a Jersey City 12-year-old who broke national Little League home run records originally set by Johnny Bench - yes, that same Johnny Bench - all the way to the District 7 Little League 12-year-old All-Star tournament championship.
During that magical summer, Dorsey belted an amazing 16 homers out of the complex nestled quaintly inside Jersey City's Lincoln Park. It was a power display never before seen and has not been witnessed since. Nor has the Lincoln Park Little League All-Stars experienced such success ever since.
Jerry Meyers has been the heart and soul of Lincoln Park Little League in Jersey City for the last 27 years. Through that time, Meyers has worn practically every single hat that the league has to offer - coach, manager, booster, chief cook, bottle washer, groundskeeper, confidant, counselor and of course, president, a title he has proudly held for what seems like an eternity.
"Somebody's got to do it," Meyers laughed.
But there was always something missing under Meyers' reign - a District championship.
"We've been close a couple times," Meyers said. "Maybe two or three times, we went to the finals. But I truly thought that I probably wouldn't see it in my lifetime. I figured I would be long gone before anything like that happened."
Before this year's District 7 tournament was about to begin, the manager of the Lincoln Park All-Stars, Darius Anderson, told Meyers that he sincerely believed he had the horses to finally win the championship.
"I've heard that before," Meyers said. "Every year, the coaches tell me that they have a good team and keep coming back to me to get a dozen baseballs. But they usually return some of those baseballs."
However, Anderson was certain that this was going to be a different kind of team, one that Lincoln Park Little League was not accustomed to having, a special one that hadn't been seen in three decades.
"I saw these kids throughout the course of the year," said Anderson, who is only 22 years old and a former Lincoln Park Little League All-Star himself (1991 and 1992). "I knew what they were capable of. I had no doubts that they could win it."
Even if the league hadn't received a banner in 30 years.
"When I heard that, it made me work that much harder," Anderson said. "It had been so long, so we all knew that we had to work that much harder to get to that point."
Anderson knew that he had talented players like DeShon "Mugsy" Johnson, a versatile pitcher/infielder with a powerful bat. He had a flame throwing hurler in Dominick Sanchez, who has all the poise and savvy of a performer twice his age. He had a powerful first baseman in Robert Verlingo, who stands 6-foot-1 and weighs 280 pounds - and only at age 12.
"I've never seen a 12-year-old kid that size before," Lincoln Park assistant coach Mike Williams said of Verlingo, who is the son of the late Bobby Verlingo, a standout football player during his heyday at Dickinson High School.
But the key to the team's success is Michael Rosario, who plays shortstop, pitches and hits the ball. Rosario hits it far. And long. And very often.
"He hit five homers during the regular season," Anderson said. "I knew the kid could really play."
Rosario is one of the best 12-year-old athletes in the area, never mind just a baseball player. He loves to play football, but his true love may be basketball, where Rosario has been averaging 25 points per game, playing against kids three and four years older than him, and is considered by experts to be the next great hoop star to come out of Jersey City.
"I want to be good in all sports," Rosario said. "Football, baseball, basketball, but I feel that my best sport is basketball. I just go out there and do my best, enjoy the game and have fun."
When the District 7 All-Star tournament began its pool play, Anderson knew that the team was ready; ready to end the 30-year drought, ready to create history.
However, the kids from Lincoln Park had already lost one game in the championship round and Monday night at Hoboken's Little League complex, they were staring at the second loss, trailing West New York National, 1-0, heading into the bottom of the sixth and final inning.
A loss would have ended the quest for history. WNY National's Jeffrey Castillo was blazing his way toward a two-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts.
But Anderson kept the faith. After all, his best player had a chance to bat that inning and Rosario had already dazzled onlookers with four other homers during the course of the eight-game tournament. Everyone was anticipating Rosario's final at-bat.
Kari Williams led off the sixth inning with a double. Johnson then followed with a single. First and second, no outs, and up stepped the slugger, perhaps the best one the league has produced since the aforementioned Dorsey 30 years ago.
"I felt shaky going up to the plate," Rosario said. "I couldn't catch up to his curveball all night. We worked so hard to get to that point. I knew I had to do something. Coach D [Anderson] told me to stay down and catch the first pitch, that it was probably going to be a fastball."
Sure enough, it was a fastball and Rosario belted it over the left field fence for the three-run homer that gave Lincoln Park a thrilling 3-1 win and allowed history to live for another day.
It was clearly the best Little League contest witnessed in this corner in more than 20 years, with both pitchers showing their brilliance, then Rosario displaying his flair for the dramatic.
Tuesday night, Rosario completed the unthinkable, this time on the mound. He fired a five-hitter, striking out 12, earning a 5-1 win over West New York National, enabling Lincoln Park to collect the long-awaited District 7 title.
"It feels good," Rosario said. "It's been a long time for Lincoln Park to come back and win the championship. I felt like I did everything I could do for the team and we made it happen."
They sure did. There were gritty, determined kids like catcher Anthony Nardo, second baseman Alberto Alvarez, third baseman Gilbert Del Risco, left fielder Eric Cotui, and reserves Anthony Rodriguez, Richard Milow and George Provost.
Not to mention kids like Mugsy and Kari and Big Bobby and that blazing hurler named Sanchez.
All of them are champions. District 7 champions. Chalk one up for history.
"I still can't believe it happened," Meyers said. "It's been so long. This year, when they kept coming back for more baseballs, I gladly gave them. Ah, all those days of aggravation and heartache. Well, I guess they paid off, because we finally got one."
The kids from Lincoln Park didn't even get too much of a chance to enjoy their title. Wednesday night, they were playing in the first round of the Section 2 championships in Edgewater. District champions get the chance to move on, in case anyone from Lincoln Park was wondering.
"We didn't even get a chance to wash the uniforms," Meyers said. "We were back out there again the next day."
"We're going to try to keep it going," Anderson said. "These kids think they can keep winning. If they think they can, then I'm going to let them go out there and try. As long as their confidence is up, anything can happen."
That's for sure, as long as the kid named Rosario continues to be the one slugging the homers and pitching lights out. They've already created history that took three decades to complete.
What's a few more weeks among friends?