NAUGATUCK — Every April across the country young players dust off their baseball mitts and rummage through the closet looking for a crumpled up baseball cap with the dream of winning a championship.
For a pair of Naugatuck baseball players — Steve Marinaro and Fran Phelan — that dream came true this summer. They played for the Naugatuck Sandy Koufax travel team coached by Rick Plasky and won the league championship with a 16-3 record.
Naugatuck split a pair of games with state champion Seymour team in the North Atlantic Regional Tournament held at Municipal Stadium in Waterbury and was eventually eliminated by the Mudcats, who went on to claim the North Atlantic title.
Seymour coach Jamar Kelley was quick to draft the pair of Naugatuck players adding them to the roster as the Mudcats were headed to Bartlesville, Okla. for the 2014 U14 Sandy Koufax World Series.
By the time the World Series was over, Seymour was crowned champions.
“Playing in the World Series was just amazing,” said Steve Marinaro, who will be entering his sophomore year at Naugatuck High School. “I went out there with no expectations but to just have fun and enjoy the moment. The Seymour team was absolutely great and treated me like I was part of the team since day one.”
The adventure to Oklahoma didn’t come without sacrifice. It involved a 30-hour bus ride, and for the Phelans it meant giving up some vacation time in Cape Cod.
The Phelans adjusted their travel plans when the opportunity to go to the World Series came along.
“They really treated us like gold when we got out to the World Series,” said Fran Phelan Sr. “We had to change some plans. My wife headed to Cape Cod, and we headed for the airport. We did get back in time to spend about a day and a half in Cape Cod. It was really an awesome experience.”
Once the team arrived at the World Series the adventure kicked into high gear with opening ceremonies at Bill Doenges Memorial Stadium in downtown Bartlesville, Okla.
“The opening ceremony and the barbeque for the kids gave all the teams the opportunity to meet one another,” said Steve’s father Chris Marinaro. “It was an adventure to get there enduring a 30-hour bus ride. But what was amazing is they had the games broadcast on the internet, and we had family watching from San Diego to Florida. I’m so proud of Steve and the rest of the kids it was certainly a dream come true to win the World Series.”
The team from Puerto Rico faced off against Guadalupe, Mexico to in the first game of the tournament followed by an afternoon contest between the Chicago White Sox A.C.E. and the Nashville, Tenn. Knights. The final game of the day brought out a crowd of 950 spectators as the hometown Bartlesville Bruins faced the Seymour Mudcats.
Seymour defeated the host team 5-1, then turned it on the next day shutting out Chicago in a 9-0 mercy rule win.
Next up for Seymour was a showdown of the undefeated teams as the Mudcats staged a three-run rally and hung on for a 4-3 win over Puerto Rico. Fran Phelan came on to earn the save, striking out two batters to secure the victory.
Fran Phelan took the mound the next day against Tennessee and handcuffed the Knights. He allowed just one hit and struck out five through four innings as Seymour held a 7-0 lead. The Knights rallied late to hand the Mudcats a tough 9-8 loss.
“It was a great experience being part of the World Series,” said Fran Phelan, who will be a freshman at Holy Cross High School in September. “When I worked out with the Seymour team I knew we had the players to pull this off. The competition was intense as every team out there was really good. I was a little nervous at first but settled down and did a good job against Tennessee.”
The Mudcats reached the championship game and quickly got out to an 8-3 lead over Puerto Rico. Then the rally began as Puerto Rico scored two runs in the fifth and sixth innings to pull within one run. With runners at the corners and two outs the Seymour centerfielder went back and hauled in the final out to give the Mudcats an exciting 8-7 win and the 2014 Sandy Koufax World Series.
Steve Marinaro played in three of the five games at second base delivering a hit and an RBI while drawing a couple of walks.
“To win the World Series was just an incredible feeling. When the last out was made I was just speechless,” Steve Marinaro said.