McCaffery, Jr.’s walk off HR delivers 500th win to McCaffery, Sr.

By Bob Behre | April 5, 2024

Baseball so often makes you scratch your head in frustration. But it can also take your breath away.

With the stage set for the kind of heroics great screenwriters dare not script, Dennis McCaffery, Jr. delivered a far-fetched Disney ending to his father’s 500th career win.

It was really the only way Junior could get his name ahead of Senior in the above headline.

The senior bound for the University of Tampa came to the plate with one out and Dylan Falk on second base in the bottom of the seventh inning. A base hit would have delivered Falk and satisfied any producer’s desire for a  tidy conclusion.

But McCaffery, Jr. chose to play Paul Bunyan, jumping on a first-pitch fastball from New Providence reliever Vince Graziano and launching it well over the left field fence at Memorial Field for a no-doubt-about-it two-run walk off home run that secured Cranford’s 7-5 victory.

“As good a feeling as you think it could be, it was every bit that for the father of the son hitting a walk-off home run to win a game for his team and have his 500th win wrapped into that,” said McCaffery, Sr. “Someone said to me it was Jeteresque. But add to that the player is playing for his dad.”

The victory also satisfied the large crowd of Cranford faithful and Cougar alums who assembled to see their veteran coach reach a career milestone shared by just 38 other coaches in New Jersey high school baseball history. McCaffery now sits at 500-143 in his career and with a staggering .778 winning percentage. McCaffery’s winning percentage is sixth all-time in New Jersey among the now 39 coaches with 500 or more victories.

Dennis McCaffery, Sr. hugs his son, Dennis, Jr. after his walk-off HR gave him career victory No. 500.

“We say, ‘At Cranford, it’s for life,’” said McCaffery, Sr. “I can’t say enough about what everyone in this program has meant to me, including all of my coaches and the alumni, many who are here today. Such much hard work is put in, from our Little League level and all the way up.”

Asked if he dared dream of such a conclusion to his dad’s 500th win, McCaffery, Jr. said, “When I was in the outfield in the top of the seventh I was thinking something has got to happen. I was thinking first-pitch fastball already. I got one and got a good swing on it.”

New Providence (0-1), which reached the NJSIAA Group 1 final in 2021 and ‘22 and has always competed on par with its larger school Union County rivals under coach Chris Brodeur, appeared on the verge of putting off the Cougars’ celebration for another day.

Cranford (2-0) had carried a 5-1 lead into the top of the sixth when the Pioneers struck for four runs to tie the game at 5-5. Cranford, uncustomarily, committed a pair of errors, and one led to a run, before Vinnie Bisaccia drew a bases-loaded walk and Graziano followed with a two-run, game-tying single to center field.

Graziano had entered in relief and retired seven of the eight Cranford batters he faced through the sixth inning. Then McCaffery went to his fourth arm of the day, righty Brayden Fry, to shut down New Providence in the top of the seventh. Mission accomplished in 1-2-3 fashion.

Cranford had the top of its order ready to roll in the last of the seventh and leadoff batter Dylan Falk bounced an 0-2 offering toward shortstop. The throw, however, got away and Falk ended up on second, a mere base hit away from victory.

Up stepped McCaffery, Jr. in the seemingly scripted spot.

“I came up looking for whatever I could do to help my team win,” said McCaffery, Jr. “The milestone isn’t something my dad ever talked about, but it’s important to me and to what it says about our program.”

If anyone had taken their eye off the field as that first pitch was delivered to Dennis, Jr., the sound of the ball hitting the bat surely would have jerked their head back toward home plate.

McCaffery unloaded his blast down the left field line, well inside the line and very comfortably over the fence to ignite the celebration.

Dennis McCaffery celebrates 500th career win this his wife, Erin, son Dennis and daughter Elizabeth.

Asked if he could believe the storybook ending he just witnessed, Brodeur said, “Absolutely. That’s how it’s supposed to happen because that’s what baseball is all about. It also speaks much to the level of excellence that Dennis has built here. His teams are always great competitors.”

It’s been a career deserving of celebration for McCaffery, Sr., who has been on a bit of a burner the past 13 seasons, during which his teams have gone 244-56 for a stunning .813 winning percentage.

His teams have won 11 Union County Tournament championships, 13 NJSIAA sectional titles and played in eight Group championship games, winning three (2010, ‘12 and ‘13) during his 25-year career. Cranford also won the Last Dance championship in July of 2020, which was an all-groups tournament set up as a make up for the lost 2020 COVID season. Cranford finished its 2013 season ranked No. 1 in state by If there were a ranking in 2020, it would have been No. 1 that year, as well.

McCaffery singled out his wife, Erin, and daughter, Elizabeth, who hustled up the Turnpike from Rowan University to take in her dad’s milestone game.

“I told Elizabeth, me and Dennis had it the whole time,” said McCaffery, Sr.

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Comments 1

  1. Dennis,
    This is by far the best ever baseball story I’ve heard.
    Brian just phoned me with the details. It’s phenomenal !!
    Congratulations Nova-boy. You deserve it and your family must take some of the credit.
    I remember many Villanova games when you powered key
    base hits for Brian, snatching victory out of the jaws of defeat.
    Thanks for the memories! Rob Kenny and family

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