Northeast Times

Good vibrations

Following a loss in last year’s Public League title game, Franklin Towne Charter is a team on a mission. They currently sit atop the league’s ‘A’ Division.

  • He’s the man: Franklin Towne Charter junior Steve Callahan is the unquestioned leader of the school’s baseball team. He pitches, plays outfield and bats third for Towne, who at 9-0-1, sits in first place atop the Public League Division A standings. TIMES FILE PHOTO

  • Power supply: Sophomore first baseman Zack Beltran started for Towne as a freshman. He bats cleanup and his bat provides home run potential for the Coyotes, who haven’t lost a division game since the 2013 title contest. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

  • Senior third baseman Brian Bradley, along with Chris Hammerstein and Steve Callahan, are the leaders of Franklin Towne Charter’s baseball team. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

Be­fore Frank­lin Towne Charter’s home base­ball game against Nueva Es­per­anza on Fri­day, the Amer­ic­an Le­gion field at Dever­eaux and He­ger­man streets more closely re­sembled a dance floor. 

The um­pire crew was late, but in­stead of get­ting anxious and antsy over the delay, this Towne team was as loose as a goose, singing and dan­cing to­geth­er near the bench to tunes such as Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch’s Good Vi­bra­tions and the No­tori­ous B.I.G.’s Mo’ Money Mo’ Prob­lems. This team, which fin­ished as the Pub­lic League run­ner-up in 2013, is hungry for an­oth­er cham­pi­on­ship run and their dan­cing — like most oth­er things — is done to­geth­er as one unit. 

Giv­en how far this team (and pro­gram) has come in just a few short years, it’s no sur­prise to see these play­ers trust each oth­er un­con­di­tion­ally. Be­fore last year’s play­off run, the cur­rent Towne seni­ors pos­ted con­sec­ut­ive re­cords of 2-12 and 3-10 as fresh­men and sopho­mores. Now, things are a wee bit dif­fer­ent.

Towne cur­rently sits at 10-1-1, with the only blem­ishes to their flaw­less re­cord be­ing a 12-12 tie to di­vi­sion foe Prep Charter on April 4 and a 10-0 non-league loss to Fath­er Judge the day after Fri­day’s emo­tion­ally drain­ing 9-7 win over a feisty Es­per­anza team that wouldn’t quit. The Coyotes are un­beaten in Pub­lic League Di­vi­sion A play at 9-0, a game-and-a-half ahead of Wash­ing­ton when the Times went to press. They haven’t lost a di­vi­sion game since Frank­ford pre­vailed 9-2 over a sloppy Towne team in 2013’s cham­pi­on­ship game.

“Des­pite our per­fect re­cord, at Frank­lin Towne, we feel like we don’t get much re­spect,” said pitch­er/out­field­er/un­ques­tioned ju­ni­or lead­er Steve Cal­la­han fol­low­ing the win over Es­per­anza. “I think after last year, we knew we were cap­able of something spe­cial. We made a prom­ise to the seni­ors who left last year. I know that I’m on a mis­sion, and I’m bring­ing all of these guys along with me.”

This Towne team has won every way pos­sible, from early-sea­son blo­wouts to re­cent tightly-con­tested wins over some of the di­vi­sion’s top teams (its last four di­vi­sion vic­tor­ies have come by a com­bined six runs). They are deep and tal­en­ted, with Cal­la­han and seni­ors Chris Ham­mer­stein (catch­er) and Bri­an Brad­ley (third base) be­ing sol­id both on the field as play­ers and off it as lead­ers. Not only that, but Towne is young, too. Against Es­per­anza, the team star­ted sev­er­al un­der­class­men: sopho­more Za­ck Beltran at first base and bat­ting cleanup, fresh­men Rob Henry (shortstop) and Jason San­ti­ago (second base) up the middle and an­oth­er ninth-grader, Eric Sanc­hez, on the mound. 

After jump­ing out to a 6-0 lead over Es­per­anza in the first in­ning, Sanc­hez and com­pany had to hold on for dear life as the op­pos­i­tion re­spon­ded with five of its own in the top of the second. When Towne ad­ded a three-spot in the third, they buckled down and with­stood Es­per­anza’s fi­nal rally in the fi­nal two in­nings, and Brad­ley punc­tu­ated the win by diving in­to the third base bag for a game-end­ing force out.

“We know we’re un­defeated, and we know there’s more of a tar­get on our backs these days,” said Cal­la­han, who went 1-for-2 with two walks and three RBI on Fri­day. “We know every team is com­ing in and throw­ing their best at us, com­ing at us with the un­der­dog men­tal­ity. But a team full of best friends is known not to lose, and that’s what we are. Com­ing out here and play­ing or prac­ti­cing to­geth­er … we love it, man. We get out here and we work hard and have fun, which is what you saw today.”

The reas­on for Towne’s easy­going nature as a team is no ac­ci­dent. Cal­la­han ad­mit­ted he ap­proached last year’s title game (the pro­gram’s first cham­pi­on­ship ap­pear­ance) with some ad­ded ten­sion, and he and the team com­mit­ted sev­en er­rors as a res­ult. Now that they have the ex­per­i­ence un­der their belts, they dis­covered if they treat each game like the one that came be­fore it, then they’ll prob­ably win a lot of them.

“We’ve been out here in the cold, the pour­ing rain … no mat­ter what con­di­tions, we’re al­ways out here try­ing to get bet­ter,” said Ham­mer­stein, one of six seni­ors on the roster. “We want to be the best team in this di­vi­sion, and that’s what it’s go­ing to take. We’re try­ing to earn every­body’s re­spect.”

This sea­son has been any­thing but or­din­ary for Towne. In ad­di­tion to play­ing the role of fa­vor­ite (even Frank­ford head coach Juan Namnun, who has won the last three league titles, singled out Towne as a team to watch), Kyle Ri­ley, the only base­ball coach the school has ever had, stepped down on March 27 for per­son­al reas­ons. His as­sist­ant coach, Chris Lauber (also the school’s boys bas­ket­ball coach), stepped in­to the role of head coach and has en­sured that the ship has stayed righted. 

In a post­game con­ver­sa­tion, Cal­la­han and Ham­mer­stein both used words and phrases such as “fo­cused” and “do­ing the little things right” on mul­tiple oc­ca­sions. While some may treat the “one game at a time ad­age” as a tired sports cliche, it’s worked for this group.

“We have a lot of young guys on this team, guys who don’t know what it’s like to lose,” Cal­la­han said. “That’s my biggest fear. Come play­off time, it’s one-and-done, so I do my best to keep them fo­cused on do­ing those little things right. I’m a big yeller, so I yell at them a lot, only be­cause I’ve been there and I want to be there again. I know what it’s like and what it takes. We have to fin­ish the job.”

Towne is also an in­cred­ibly close group. When San­ti­ago, the fresh­man second base­man, was re­moved from the game fol­low­ing a late er­ror, there was al­ways a team­mate by his side to help con­sole the young man and re­as­sure him that in this game, mis­takes are an in­ev­it­ab­il­ity. They have each oth­er’s backs just like they al­ways have, just as they did when they ar­rived to the prom­ised land fol­low­ing years of struggle and strife.

The school, which is still re­l­at­ively new in the grand scheme of things (Towne opened in 2000), has been rid­ing a wave of ath­let­ics suc­cess. The girls soc­cer pro­gram has won three straight league titles, while the soft­ball team cap­tured its first in 2013. Both bas­ket­ball pro­grams have gone from bot­tom-dwell­ers to play­off con­tenders. The base­ball play­ers see their peers cel­eb­rat­ing, mak­ing them want that cham­pi­on­ship hard­ware even more.

“There would be a lot more re­spect for the pro­gram,” Ham­mer­stein said. “Every­one al­ways talks about girls soc­cer, and soft­ball pulled one off last year. Base­ball has been kind of off in the dis­tance. We’ve been quiet for a couple of years now. It wasn’t that long ago where we only won one game in our di­vi­sion. It’d be real nice to be able to get back to that cham­pi­on­ship game and be able to redo the mis­takes we made.”

Cal­la­han, who the former coach Ri­ley called “a born lead­er,” said he has lots of friends who play Cath­ol­ic League base­ball and that he too had op­por­tun­it­ies to fol­low suit. But the lure of be­ing able to ac­com­plish something his school has nev­er done was too strong.

“It’s a huge ac­com­plish­ment what we’re do­ing, but we can’t get a big head,” Cal­la­han aid. “The greatest thing about this sea­son is you can see the pro­gress and re­spect factor de­vel­op­ing be­fore you. We’re win­ning games, sure, but it doesn’t stop here.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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