Public League falls to Lehigh Valley

#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.morrone@gmail.com