Let's face it. A team from West New York has dominated the double-elimination tourney for the better part of the last decade. Sure, there has been a championship here and there, like Secaucus one year, Hoboken another. The last two titles were claimed by Jersey City teams, namely Pershing Field in 2002 and Lincoln Park last year.
But every other title around, through and in between, has been claimed by a West New York team. It's almost unfathomable that the kids from WNY could dominate the tourney that much.
After losing in the finals in each of the last two years, the powers-that-be in West New York wanted to make sure that there would be a return to glory in 2004.
So the two head honchos of the West New York Little League, Darryl Semple and Orgelio Alfonso, devised a plan that would fit the needs of every kid who participates in the West New York Little League.
"I've been involved with the Little League for the last 11 years," said Semple, who is the president of the West New York National Little League, but was the head coach of the WNY American All-Stars. "The coaches, the players, everyone is so supportive of one another."
"We always tell the kids that West New York always plays good in the District 7 tournament," said Alfonso, who reverses what Semple does - serves as president of the WNY American league, but coaches the WNY National squad, the team that re-captured the District 7 banner last weekend with a barnburner 16-15 victory over Bayonne Central Little League in the title game.
"West New York has a tradition of doing well in the tournament, and we wanted these kids to understand that," Alfonso said. "I knew this was a team with great potential. I knew that they could do really well in the tournament. West New York is West New York. It doesn't matter what league they play in. The kids all live in the same town. They try hard to make everything a success. They play together and work together. Plus, there's a lot of talent here and we just try to bring it out of the kids."
It didn't take much work for Alfonso to coax the talent out of this bunch of youngsters. They had all the makings of a champion, just like other West New York teams of the past. Alfonso felt that the team had the ingredients to do even more than simply claim another District 7 banner to fly above the scoreboard in centerfield.
"I thought they had potential to go even further than this," Alfonso said.
Alfonso knew that he had some excellent pitchers, which is always the key in baseball tournaments. The WNY Nationals had pitchers like Rubi Almonte, Randy Reyes and Ozzie Alfonso, the coach's son.
"But I think of every kid of possibly being a pitcher in my mind," Coach Alfonso said. "They all had the feeling that they could win this."
Catcher Steve Calvo is the team's emotional leader. He's the leadoff hitter and the one who gets everything going.
"He's the heart of the team," Alfonso said. "Everyone gets excited because of him."
First base duties are shared by Reyes and the younger Alfonso. When one pitches, the other plays first and vice versa. Stefan Luis is the team's second baseman, a solid fielder with good leadership qualities. Dario Zaldana is the shortstop, a slick fielding wizard who makes big-time plays. Third base is manned by Almonte when he's not pitching.
It was Almonte who belted the "Shot Heard 'Round Jersey City," a gargantuan 350-foot blast deep in the title game against Bayonne Central that traveled into the center of the hockey rink next to College Little League's field in Jersey City's Country Village, a bomb that tourney organizers called the furthest homer they've ever seen hit.
Jefferson Peralta is the team's left fielder. He is joined by Clamir Garcia in center field and Adrian Machin in right. Other members of the team include Brian Cueva, who is the team's closer.
"He's like our Mariano Rivera," Alfonso said of Cueva.
Eric Ramirez and Kermy Amparo are reserve outfielders, with Amparo serving as the team's resident speedster. Danny Luis and Rubi Almonte, Sr. are the team's assistant coaches.
WNY National made its way through the tournament without a scratch, having defeated quality teams like North Bergen South and Bayonne Central along the way.
"From the time we beat North Bergen, I knew that we were one of the top teams," Alfonso said. "But I knew it wasn't going to be easy, especially if we faced Bayonne again. That was going to be a war."
Sure enough, it was just that. The title game became one of the more memorable contests in the nearly 40-year history of the District 7 Little League tournament. WNY National jumped out to an 11-4 lead, thanks to the monstrous homer by Almonte and another two-run shot by Calvo.
"We were sitting pretty," Alfonso said. "I sat back and told the other coaches that the game was ours."
But the kids from Bayonne Central still had something to say about that.
"Have to give credit to Bayonne, because they never gave up," Alfonso said.
Sure enough, Bayonne Central came back to tie the game at 11-11, then after WNY National scored four times to take a 15-11 lead, sure enough, Bayonne Central scored four more times to tie the game at 15-15.
"I've never seen a game go up and down like that," Alfonso said. "I had to use every pitcher I had. I had no one else. It was unreal to be a part of it. But our kids were able to fight through it all. But I've never been involved in a game like that. Hopefully, I'll never be involved in a game like it ever again. You think you have the game won, and the next minute, it's tied. It was just an incredible game."
However, the cream always rises to the top, and in this case, it's the kids from West New York. Once again.
"It's the best feeling in the world," Alfonso said. "Besides my son being born, it was the greatest feeling ever. We wanted that flag and wanted to bring it back to West New York. It had been a couple of years since we won. It was about time that we won again."
Alfonso had confidence that this District 7 champion had the makings of going even further in the Little League tournament and proved that Tuesday night, when the WNY Nationals defeated Fort Lee, 7-4, with Ozzie Alfonso serving as the winning pitcher, in the first round of the Section 2 tournament in Livingston.
Maybe, perhaps, this team can continue on to the state tournament next week. Never know. One thing's for sure. West New York is back atop the Little League local scene, a place where they always belonged.