Frank Scerra was confused.
The left-fielder for the Mid-Island Little League 12-year-old all-star team couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. The team had just been honored at Staten Island Borough Hall, and the whirlwind would continue with victory laps offered by the Mets at Citi Field, the Staten Island Yankees at the Richmond County Ballpark, the New York Stock Exchange in Manhattan and Dave and Buster’s in the Staten Island Mall.
“Why do we have to keep doing this?” Frank asked his mom innocently. “All we did was play baseball.”
And capture the hearts of a city along the way.
Indeed, it was a special summer for the boys from Mid-Island, who became the sixth team from Staten Island and third from the Travis league to reach the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Whether it was Gregory Bruno pitching a perfect game in the Regional championship contest or shortstop Steven Martinez hitting over .700 in the Regionals, the boys gave New York — and especially their home borough — plenty of reasons to root, root, root for the home team.
But it wasn’t all applause and ESPN interviews for the group. There was a lot of hard work and sacrifice by the boys and their families leading up to that success.
As right-fielder Robert Cavalieri’s dad, Anthony, put it, “You don’t get to Williamsport by accident. It takes a lot of work.”
The boys, led by manager Joe Calabrese and coaches Al Bedford and Anthony Ferrante, practiced virtually every day, for several hours a day, rain or shine, while their parents had to figure out how to juggle work schedules and come up with the funds to keep up with it all over the three months the run lasted.
Laura Scerra works from home, but many parents — like her husband, Frank, a supervisor at the port of Newark — put a lot of miles on their cars driving back and forth to be at the games.
“Frank took his vacation when we were in Bristol, Connecticut, for the regionals,” Laura said, “but drove back and forth once we got to Williamsport.”
“Unfortunately, some of the parents had to miss a few games because of work,” said Anthony Cavalieri, a retired firefighter.
The final month, once the team reached the Mid-Atlantic regionals, meant “paying for hotels, meals and gas” to follow the team, Cavalieri said “But we’d all do it all over again.”
The same group of boys went 11-0 to become 11-year-old state champions last summer, so everyone anticipated something special this summer.
“We knew not to plan any summer vacations this year,” Cavalieri said.
The only thing that could slow Mid-Island this summer was the weather, which pushed the Mid-Atlantic Regionals an extra day and forced the team to board a bus for Williamsport almost immediately after clinching a spot in the World Series.
“We had about seven minutes to say goodbye to them,” Scerra said.
And that’s when things really got nuts.
“The boys were treated like royalty,” Cavalieri said. “It was an amazing feeling seeing your 12-year-old son giving autographs.”
His wife, Dawn, added: “The whole thing was overwhelming.”
Mid-Island roomed with the team from Japan and enjoyed interacting with their players. “They used their smartphones’ translate apps to understand what they were saying,” Dawn Cavalieri said. “They met people from all over the world.”
Mid-Island had the Island’s hopes soaring after winning their first two games in Williamsport, but fell short in two chances to reach the championship game — first to Honolulu Little League from Hawaii, the eventual champion, and then to Peachtree City American from Georgia.
Still, the team won 17 of the 19 games it played this summer and received a hero’s welcome when it returned to its Travis complex on Aug. 24, accompanied by a police escort that met its bus at the Goethals Bridge. Mayor Bill de Blasio made an appearance at the league picnic on Sept. 8 to present the team with a proclamation making it Mid-Island Little League Day in New York City.
The boys — Bruno, Martinez, Cavalieri, Scerra, Derek Mendez, Thomas Puglisi, Chris Bedford, John Calabrese, Logan Castellano, Chris Cancel and Jayson Hannah — won’t appreciate the magnitude of what they accomplished “until they’re a lot older,” Dawn Cavalieri said.
And when the games were through, most agreed, the group went through a sense of withdrawal.
“I miss it,” Anthony Cavalieri said, with Dawn adding, “The families were with each other every day. We’re all so close.”
“We recently went through a stretch where we didn’t see each other for like five days,” Laura Scerra added. “So we all went to dinner together. We were like, ‘Oh, my God, I miss everybody.’
“The bond,” she added, “will last forever.”
So will the memories.
By local sportswriter Joe LoVerde, who coached youth sports on Staten Island for nearly 40 years.
Photo credit: Ed Reed/ New York Mayoral Office