Public League falls to Lehigh Valley

They didn’t walk away with a win, but the Pub­lic League was all smiles at the 26th an­nu­al Car­penter Cup on Monday.

#25 - Brandon Gonza­lez

At Monday af­ter­noon’s Car­penter Cup Clas­sic, the Phil­adelphia Pub­lic League’s 12-0 shel­lack­ing by Le­high Val­ley couldn’t wipe the biggest smile off the face of the smal­lest play­er on the field.

Frank­ford ju­ni­or second base­man Ricky Al­varez had plenty of reas­ons to be happy des­pite such a lop­sided de­feat. For starters, he was the only mem­ber of his team to reach base twice (a pair of walks) in the 26th an­nu­al high school base­ball all-star sym­posi­um for the Delaware Val­ley’s best play­ers.

Dur­ing the game, played at Rich­ie Ash­burn Field in South Phil­adelphia, the di­min­ut­ive Al­varez also stole a base and made a couple of fine de­fens­ive plays in the field.

However, most of his ex­cite­ment was be­cause he: a) got to play in the Car­penter Cup with six Frank­ford team­mates, b) helped the no­tori­ously over­matched Pub­lic League keep things close for six in­nings, and c) real­ized there’s a strong chance he and the same team­mates can re­turn to this same point a year from now.

“It was an amaz­ing ex­per­i­ence,” the gen­er­ously lis­ted 5-foot-4, 140-pound Al­varez said fol­low­ing the game. “I think what people don’t un­der­stand when they look at that score­board is that this is all go­ing to help us get bet­ter for next year. It’s great to keep play­ing with my team­mates, be­cause it mo­tiv­ates us even more to be back here next year … ex­cept next time, we want to win.”

That last part is much easi­er said than done. In the 26 years that the Car­penter Cup has ex­is­ted, the Pub­lic League has won just once — in 1990. Not only that, but the Pub has been outscored, 245-72, and has al­lowed at least eight runs in 16 of the last 18 years.

However, the crooked num­bers did not de­ter Al­varez and his six Frank­ford team­mates (shortstop Is­rael Diaz, first base­man Kev­in Montero, pitch­er Brandon Gonza­lez and out­field­ers Au­gusto Or­t­ego, Hec­tor Cerda and Omar Cruz), as well as the rest of the Pub­lic League par­ti­cipants, from hav­ing the time of their lives. And des­pite the ugly fi­nal score, some def­in­ite pro­gress was made; after six in­nings, Le­high Val­ley was cling­ing to a 2-0 lead be­fore hanging five spots on the board in the sev­enth and ninth.

“It was real in­tense out there for a while,” Al­varez said. “I know that people say the Pub­lic League can’t com­pete in this tour­na­ment, but they need to open their eyes and clean out their ears. Next year we’ll be back, and we’re go­ing to work even harder to get there.”

It wouldn’t be a shock to see most of the Frank­ford play­ers re­turn to this game in 2012. After all, the Pi­on­eers had only one seni­or on this year’s roster, and six of the sev­en Car­penter Cup par­ti­cipants are ju­ni­ors (the power­ful Montero is just a sopho­more). It’s a scary thought for the rest of the Pub­lic League, con­sid­er­ing that Frank­ford was the Pub­lic League cham­pi­on this sea­son.

“What’s most spe­cial about this for me is that even though the sea­son is over, as far as Frank­ford base­ball is con­cerned, you get to see these guys to­geth­er one more time,” said Pi­on­eers coach Juan Namnun, who also served as the Pub­lic League head coach. “These were the guys that led us to a cham­pi­on­ship this sea­son, and it’s great to see them rep­res­ent us one more time.”

The Pub­lic League hung around long enough to make it a ballgame, but Le­high Val­ley ul­ti­mately pulled away by pep­per­ing Namnun’s pitch­ing staff for two of the fi­nal three in­nings. In fact, of the Pub’s sev­en pitch­ers, only GAMP’s Dom Raia kept Le­high Val­ley off the score­board. Con­sequently, they man­aged only four hits on of­fense.

But the blo­wout loss didn’t stop the Pub­lic League from hav­ing a good time. The late in­nings con­tained plenty of dugout antics to keep the mood light (cho­reo­graphed chant­ing, syn­chron­ized leg-cross­ing and a meas­ur­ing con­test of the team’s tallest play­ers).

“That’s the fun part,” Namnun said. “You dread play­ing most of these kids dur­ing the sea­son, but now they’re on your side in your dugout, and you get to have some fun with that. This tour­na­ment is all about the kids, be­cause for some of them, it’s the last game they’ll ever play at this level. As far as the coaches were con­cerned, we just wanted to make sure they had a good time.”

Al­though yet an­oth­er de­feat dropped the Pub­lic League to a bru­tal 1-26 all-time in the Car­penter Cup, Al­varez’s ear-to-ear smile in­dic­ated that Namnun’s mis­sion was a suc­cess. 

And who knows, per­haps this time next year the Pub­lic League will be able to make more pitches on the mound and string to­geth­er a few more hits on of­fense to get its first win in more than 20 years. With the en­tire Frank­ford core re­turn­ing, that’s what Al­varez, Namnun and com­pany are hop­ing for.

“It’s an hon­or to be here, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing that I’m the smal­lest play­er out here,” Al­varez said. “We don’t ex­pect any­thing else but an­oth­er cham­pi­on­ship next year, and if that hap­pens for us, we all ex­pect to be play­ing in this game again.”

Namnun echoed his second base­man’s sen­ti­ments.

“The Pub­lic League is def­in­itely climb­ing in terms of tal­ent,” he said. “A couple years ago we wer­en’t hanging with the teams down here, but now it’s a ballgame. It’s prob­ably the most ex­cited I’ve been since I’ve been coach­ing at Frank­ford, with the group of guys I’ve got com­ing back. Every starter that was in the game at the end of the Pub­lic League cham­pi­on­ship will be back next sea­son.

“How, as a coach, can you not be ex­cited for that?” ••

Re­port­er Ed Mor­rone can be reached at ed­ward.mor­

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