The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

October 7, 2013

The boys of summer

Half a century has passed, but the ARC guys who brought the ’63 American Legion state title back to Ashtabula remain a true band of brothers

For the Star Beacon

— In 1963, the Ashtabula Rubber Company Baseball Team won the American Legion state championship.

It was the first time any team from Ashtabula County had ever won a state championship in any sport and the only time a team from Ashtabula County has ever won a state championship in American Legion Baseball.

Recently, the members of that team got together to renew some old friendships and relive some great memories. Fifty years haven’t dimmed those memories or changed how we still feel about each other. All of us remembered how much we really liked each other and how well we liked playing together.

We came from five different high schools: Ashtabula, Harbor, Edgewood, St. John and Geneva. We won, not only because we were very talented, but because we played as a team. We didn’t have any primadonnas or head cases. All we cared about was winning, and we didn’t care who got the credit. And everybody took turns being a hero.

Our pitching was outstanding. In the games of the state tournament, our pitchers gave up only 33 hits and nine earned runs in 45 innings for an ERA of 1.80.

We had six pitchers, Jim Osborne was our ace. He was a left-hander with a big curveball and he changed speeds and moved the ball around very well. He always kept us in the game until we got the bats going, and once he got the lead, he was awfully tough to beat. Steubenville was the tournament favorite, and he beat them, 7-1, pitching on two days’ rest in 90-degree heat. For the tournament, he struck out a record 22 batters. Any time I saw Ozzie walk out there, I felt good about our chances.

Brian Gaines was a right-hander with a live fastball and a knuckleball that was virtually unhittable. In the second game, he pitched seven innings of three-hit relief to beat a good Pemberville team, 9-6. Every time you gave him the ball, he went out there and gave you everything he had. He’d battle the whole way. Brian was a versatile athlete who was a good hitter and baserunner, and he fielded his position very well.

Harvey Wells was a right-hander who threw hard and had a natural sink to his fastball. In the first game, he gave up only four hits and went all nine innings to beat Euclid, 5-1. In game four, he came back on only two days’ rest to throw 150 pitches without giving up an earned run to beat Lancaster, 9-6.

Tim McCarthy was a left-hander who threw free and easy. He wasn’t that big, but he could bring it. He had as live an arm as anybody I ever caught from around here, with a big tail to his fastball and a sharp break on his curve. He had pitched very well the year before, but he hurt his arm early in the summer and wasn’t able to pitch as much as we would have liked. He did, though, help us win the county and district tournaments.

Bob Domizi was a big, hard-throwing left-hander with a big leg kick and a smooth delivery. All of a sudden, the ball was on top of the hitter and this made him very effective. Like Tim, Domer, helped us win the county and district tournaments.

Everybody in our lineup could hit. Bob Rich was our right fielder and leadoff hitter and he set the table for the hammers in the middle of the lineup. Through the county, district and state tournaments, he was our leading hitter, and in game four, he got two hits and two RBI. With two outs in the fifth inning of the championship game, we were leading, 3-1, but Steubenville had two men on and was threatening to score. Then Bob stepped up and made the play of the tournament. On a line shot to right field, running full speed, he laid out flat and made a diving catch. If the ball had gotten by him, two runs would have scored, maybe three, and Steubenville could have retaken the lead. Considering the situation, it was as good a catch and as big a clutch play as I’ve ever seen.

In addition to pitching, Harvey Wells played both left and center field. He was an excellent hitter with a lot of pop in his bat and a good fielder with a strong arm and good speed. In the first game, he got two hits and in game four, he got three more and three RBI. In the championship game, he hit a three-run, inside-the-park home run to help finish off Steubenville.

Bill Montgomery was our second baseman and just a great hitter with very good power. When we played against him in high school that spring, we couldn’t get him out, and that summer, nobody else could, either. On a base hit, he always looked to take the extra base and once he got on, he was always a threat to steal. In the first game, Monty had two hits, and in the eighth inning of the third game, he blasted a double to drive in two runs to help lead our come-from-behind win against Steubenville.

In the fourth inning of the championship game, he started our comeback with a single. Because he was such a good hitter, some people overlooked how well he played in the field. Earlier in the year, Monty had broken his wrist and was playing wearing a cast. When it got in the way, he just cut off the cast and kept on playing. He was as tough a competitor as I ever saw, and he didn’t back down from anybody.

Joe St. Angelo played center field and third base. Nobody hit the ball harder or farther than Joe. Pressure never bothered him, and when the game was on the line, he wanted to be at the plate. In the first game, Joe had two hits. In the third game, we were trailing Steubenville, 4-2, and he started our comeback. He was the first hitter in the eighth inning, and with a 3-2 count, he fouled off eight straight pitches before lining a single. Later that inning, he blasted a three-run homer to cap off an eight-run rally in our 10-4 win. Joe was also an excellent fielder, twice unloading perfect throws from center field to nail runners at the plate.

Lou Coccia was our first baseman. He had a sweet swing, short and compact, and the ball just jumped off his bat. He hit line drives and the long ball all summer. In the second game, Lou had three hits, with two booming doubles. In our come-from-behind win in game three, he singled in a run in the middle of the eighth inning rally. In the championship game, we trailing, 1-0, and doubled and later scored the go-ahead run. Lou had soft hands and smooth footwork around the bag, and any time we infielders made a bad throw, he bailed us out.

Joe Incorvia played third base and was our left-handed hitter. He was our youngest starter, but he played with a lot of confidence. He was a big, strong guy who always hit the ball hard and hit good pitching very well. In game two, he had three hits, including a double. In game three, he a single in the middle of our comback rally, and in game four, he had a double and two RBI. Joe was a good athlete who originally had been a catcher and he made the conversion to third base very well. He had good hands and a strong arm.

Terry Melaragno was our shortstop. He had as much range as any shortstop I ever played with and made some amazing plays, whether going deep into the hole or behind second base. He had sure hands and a strong, accurate arm and didn’t make a single error in the county, district or state tournaments. He was an excellent baserunner with good speed and I never saw him get thrown out trying to take the extra base. In the first game, Mel had two hits, and in the championship game, he had a big double to drive in the tying and go-ahead runs.

Chris Kotila was our fourth outfielder who played left field whenever Harvey pitched. He had a lot of power and speed and was a good fielder with a strong arm. In game four, he helped lead our win by hitting a 355-foot home run and later making an over-the-shoulder catch after a long run to kill a Lancaster rally. It was especially important to win that game because it left us as the only undefeated team and gave us a day off and a chance to relax a little.

Bill Hanselman was our utility infielder and good enough to start on most other teams. He had good range, soft hands and a strong, accurate arm. He was a dangerous hitter who was quick on the bases. Any time he filled in for Mel or Monty, he always got the job done. In the championship game of the district tournament, Bill got two hits and scored a run in a one-run win.

As the catcher, I had a front-row seat for the whole show. And it was fun! Our pitchers were always around the plate and easy to catch. Twice, on perfect throws from the outfield earlier in the tournament and once from Lou at first in the championship game, I had to block the plate to keep runners from scoring. In the first game of the tournament, I got two hits and in game three, I drove in two runs with a single in the middle of our come-from-behind rally. In the championship game, I doubled to drive in a run.

Until I coached myself, I never realized how much time, effort and sacrifice coaching took. John Nelson managed the Ashtabula Rubber Company Baseball team for 28 years, and Norm Benson was the business manager for just as long. Nick Nappi and Harry Gaines, John’s assistants, both coached baseball for a long time.

Last, and certainly not least, was our sponsor, the Ashtabula Rubber Company and its owners, the Jammal Family. Nick, his son, Joe, and daughter, Eleanor, and later his grandson, Nick, have been big supporters of American Legion Baseball since 1951.

Without all these dedicated people, hundreds of young men wouldn’t have had the chance to play a great game in the summer.

Before the tournament started, we weren’t expected to do much. We didn’t have any big names. What we did have was a bunch of guys who could flat-out play. Trash-talking wasn’t as big back then, but it still happened. A couple of big guys from Steubenville told Monty and Brian they’d never win anything because they were too small. A player from another team called us a bunch of farmers.

The best way to shut guys like that up is to just go out and beat them. And that’s just what we did. After the last out of the championship game, all our emotions from the whole week poured out. Nobody was making fun of us anymore. We all charged the mound and mobbed Ozzie, and then we hugged each other.

And then we did it all over again.

All of us were good athletes and we had received individual recognition, but nothing can compare to winning a championship and sharing that with your teammates.

When I coached high school baseball, some players from that year’s American Legion team didn’t know we’d won the state championship. One time they asked me, “Hey, did you guys ever play?”

All that I said was, “Yeah, we used to play.”