So much to talk about today at Suffern. The Journal News had two reporters there, me and columnist Rick Carpiniello, and I still don’t think we covered everything. I’ll try to relay the day’s events for anyone who wasn’t in the huge crowd.
Today was Suffern’s season opener. It was supposed to be Saturday vs Arlington, but Vinny Crotty’s funeral was Saturday so that was scrapped. Today’s game was going to be at Tappan Zee, but TZ immediately agreed to move it to Suffern. TZ coach Mark Stanford said he was expecting to move it even before Suffern called with the official request. It was a no-brainer, he said.
Holding the game at home would allow the school to have a tribute to its two fallen players, Crotty and Chris Konkowski.
The honors had begun even before the ceremony. Konkowski’s No. 7 and Crotty’s No. 19 were emblazoned in giant white numbers on the hill that abuts left field (pictured above). Those numbers also hung in white circles on the right field fence. Every Suffern cap also sports them on either side of the “S.” No Suffern player will ever again wear 7 or 19. The only other Suffern Mountie to have his number retired is Walt Weiss, the major league shortstop for whom the field is named.
“All of this is for them,” Robbie Aviles said. “We miss them so much.”
To start the ceremony, the entire Suffern baseball program, from freshman through varsity, lined up around the field. So too did the girls lacrosse team. Tappan Zee also agreed to give up its girls lacrosse home game so that Becky Morris, Vinny’s step-sister, could take part.
A moment of silence was observed before Bernie Williams escorted the two grieving families out to the mound. Williams (pictured shaking hands), the former Yankee all-star, had been contacted by a co-worker of Peter Crotty, Vincent’s dad. Peter told my colleague Rick Carpiniello a story about taking a giddy 4-year-old Vincent to Yankee Stadium to get Bernie’s autograph. It didn’t hurt that the Yankees had a scout at the game already.
At the mound, three Tappan Zee captains brought flowers to the two mothers. The two fathers then threw out ceremonial first pitches.
Meanwhile, behind the crowd, Aviles took his warmup pitches under the watchful eye of 15 scouts. Just him, the catcher, the bullpen walls, and 30 prying eyes. Aviles handled it without a twitch.
Personally, I had no idea what to expect out of Robbie today. Were all these scouts really expecting him to pitch well under these circumstances? He knows his pro future is being determined with every pitch he throws. That requires a lot of concentration. But how could he concentrate with what’s gone on the last 10 days?
Could you take an SAT so soon after two of your friends died suddenly? I couldn’t.
What if he threw badly? What if he didn’t have good command? What if his focus was wavering? Would the scouts hold that against him?
Those were my questions coming in. Turns out they were irrelevant. Aviles wasn’t rattled at all. Nor were his teammates. The events of the last 10 days had emboldened them. They were happy to be back on the baseball field and determined to make Konkowski and Crotty proud of their play.
“We found that when we got on this field and started playing baseball again, we were much more focused,” coach Ron Gamma said. “I thought they were having fun. They were laughing, they were kidding around. I mean they actually sounded like young kids, which they should be.”
By the time Aviles threw his first pitch to James Lampone, the crowd of scouts had swelled to 28 (according to my head count). Keep in mind, these are only pro scouts. Robbie’s already committed to the University of Florida. So here were 28 major league scouts, all with scratch pads or radar guns or both. Intimidating. And Aviles admitted as much. But so intense was his focus on his two friends, that no amount of scouts could scare him.
He struck out the side on 12 pitches in the first inning. He fanned two more in the second (and picked a runner off) and three more in the third. The fielders didn’t make an out until the fourth inning, when new shortstop Anthony Simon fielded a ground ball.
In all Aviles went five innings with five hits, no walks, nine strikeouts, and one hit batter. He reached 93 mph on the guns and showed a good curveball.
“I thought I did well,” Aviles said. “I could have commanded my pitches a little better. Adrenaline was pumping a lot. We had a lot of fans here coming out for Chris and Vinny.”
Most of the scouts hung around for three or four innings.
“In a regular day that would be intimidating,” TZ coach Mark Stanford said. “Today it was almost an afterthought.”
Suffern ended up winning 15-0. Tappan Zee looked a lot more rattled than the home team. The Dutchmen made six errors.
I asked Aviles if he wished the scouts have given him a game to recuperate and come to his second game instead. He said it didn’t matter to him. He’d been mentally preparing all offseason for their presence. With the MLB draft approaching, he expects scouts at all of his starts this year.
The hitting was plentiful. All 13 Mounties who batted reached base. Nick Kulbaba (4 for 5, two doubles, three RBI) led the 16-hit parade. One of those was a two-run single by Dan Adler. Adler, close friends with the two boys, showed that he is ready to play baseball even as he continues to mourn.
Also putting on a good showing was Simon. The Suffern native transferred from Don Bosco Prep in August to be back with his friends. Turns out he has to replace one. He played baseball with Crotty growing up and was going to start at second base with Crotty at short. When his friend died, Simon assumed the shortstop job.
“It really has been (difficult),” he said. “You have to stay strong for the families and your teammates. That’s the biggest part. I mean, I lost a brother last year. I know what it’s like to lose a family member. Dealing with death isn’t that easy, and dealing with death in the family is even harder.”
Simon’s brother Elmis Hernandez died of cardiac arrest. So even though he’s new to the team, he may have more perspective than anybody.
Simon doubled and tripled in the 3-hole, right in front of Aviles. The career 2-hitter trusts Gamma to use him the right way. At Don Bosco he had three coaches in three seasons.
At nightfall there was a candlelight vigil held at the field. Mourners packed together to spell out the Nos. 7 and 19.
One last note for TZ fans: although you lost a home game this year, Suffern will play at TZ next year.