After bulldozing its way through the Public League baseball schedule this season, it was all but expected that the Frankford Pioneers would capture the team’s second consecutive championship.
So when the scoreboard read 2-0 Pioneers after one-half inning in Friday’s title game, what was shocking was that the lead belonged not to Frankford but to another Pioneers team.
Frankford’s opponent, the underdog Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP), are also called the Pioneers, and the team nobody thought had a shot had jumped out to a two-run lead on an opposite-field home run by pitcher Desmond Drummond. Feeding off the possibility of a monster upset, GAMP’s noisy supporters relentlessly cheered for the improbable.
But as is usually the case with Frankford, order was restored almost as fast as adversity crept in.
Panic? This team? No chance.
The senior-laden, heavily-favored Pioneers of Frankford busted out for three runs in the bottom of the first as the first four batters reached base, with runs scoring on an RBI double by senior right fielder Hector Cerda and a two-run single by junior first baseman Kevin Montero.
Just like that, Frankford was in front again, and things would stay that way in an 8-3 win that cemented this particular team as one of the all-time greats at the school.
“We knew we were going to hit,” Cerda said after a victory lap around the bases with Frankford’s championship trophy, the eighth this century for the Pioneers. “If they can hit, then so can we. We came right back in that first inning and never gave up.”
This championship was especially sweet for the team’s eight senior starters who won the title last year as juniors. Even with such a sizable target on their backs this year, the Pioneers never got complacent and lost only one league game all season to Central, who was knocked out by GAMP in the semifinals.
“I’m humbled, but I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t think we’d get here,” head coach Juan Namnun said after his team doused him with a celebratory Gatorade shower. “With the depth we have across the board and the way these guys conducted themselves, I really believed we had the potential to be special.”
The game remained tight into the fourth with Frankford holding a 3-2 advantage. After Frankford pitcher Omar Cruz struck out to lead off the fourth, leftfielder Ramon Rosario singled. Catcher Eduardo Sanchez ripped a grounder that was snagged by Drummond, but his throw to second was low and both runners were safe. Carlos Ramirez reached on a bunt single to load the bases, bringing the league’s most-feared hitter, senior centerfielder Augusto Ortega, to the plate.
The Division A Most Valuable Player and Northeast Times Public League Baseball Player of the Year didn’t disappoint, lining a bases-clearing double to right-center to give the Pioneers a comfortable 6-2 lead they wouldn’t come close to relinquishing.
“Coach told me to be the man and do my job,” Ortega said. “When I came back to the dugout after that hit, I knew that put us on another level and we could breathe a little bit after that.”
From there, Cruz shut the door on GAMP. After the Drummond homer, the senior right-hander retired 13 of the next 15 batters he faced and escaped a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the sixth by allowing only one run. From then on it was just a matter of time before Frankford could celebrate, as team members mobbed each other after pinch-hitter John Hakun lined out to second to end the game. Cruz fanned seven, walked two and scattered four hits in a complete-game win.
“Omar’s a workhorse, and he’s unflappable,” Namnun said. “There’s nobody I’d rather have on the mound after a home run because he’s our go-to guy in big games. He’s the best pitcher in the league, and a home run’s a home run — who hasn’t given up a home run before? It’s a long baseball game, and he bounced back like it was nothing.”
For most of the Frankford seniors, the best part about winning another championship was that it keeps this close-knit group together for at least a bit longer. By winning the Public League title, Frankford will meet the winner of La Salle/Neumann-Goretti in Thursday’s City Title game. From there, Frankford will likely move onto the state tournament, hopefully ensuring a few more weeks together before the scattering seniors go their separate ways.
“I feel very happy for all of my seniors,” Cerda said. “We’ve been playing together since we were little, and we play every one like it’s our last. This could have been our last time playing together, and we took advantage of that. We just had to believe in ourselves and play hard. If we did that, everything would work out, and it did.”
Added Ortega: “I’m happy we got to experience this together as seniors, but I’m also happy to show the young guys on the team that this is how you win a championship. This is the hard work you have to put in to get there. If you take it step by step, you can accomplish all of your goals, and we proved that.”
After the celebrations had subsided on the field and players began to share the victory with their friends and families, Namnun leaned against a nearby fence and took it all in. His Frankford jersey removed and T-shirt still saturated from his Gatorade bath, the Pioneers’ class act of a coach smiled when asked where this team ranks amongst the many talented ones he has been in charge of over the years.
“It’s really hard to go back-to-back,” he said. “When you win a championship the previous year you have to raise the energy to try to repeat, and that’s never easy when you have a target on your back and everyone in the league is gunning for you. To have these seniors start something three or four years ago and work so hard to finish it on this field today means the world to me and to us as a team. This one’s really special for me, for Frankford and for all of us that had a hand in this.”
Namnun flashed one more smile when he was asked about this particular team elevating itself from just another good Frankford team to a great one that people won’t soon forget.
“I’ll always remember the grit,” he said. “They were always hungry and never satisfied. The fact that they never once got complacent made it truly special. They wanted perfection, and in a tight game you saw the grit and extra effort come out. I’m proud of all of them.” ••EndFragment