By Rich Bevensee
It wasn’t the start New York City Freedom 13U drew up on the chalkboard, or expected, considering the cold weather conditions the team was facing early Sunday morning.
But when the game concluded with a mercy-rule victory, the general consensus was deep gratitude for completing most of their offensive work early while they still had some feeling left in their fingers.
Forcing the Hackettstown Tigers to stay on the field for a 34-minute half-inning and bear the brunt of a 26-degree morning, Freedom began the game with a 13-run explosion and rode that burst to a 16-2 victory in pool play of the 13U Spring Invitational at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
The kids from the big city were boosted by a pair of inside-the-park home runs, one each from Thomas McGrath and Aiden Chimicles. Having spent last season on 50-70 fields, both home runs were the first for either player on a 90-foot diamond.
“I tried to ignore the cold weather but it was really hard. I had hand warmers in my back pocket but I don’t know how much that helped,” said McGrath, who batted twice in Freedom’s 16-batter first inning. He had a two-run single his first time up as the team’s No. 5 batter before his grand slam later that inning. He admitted he wasn’t feeling too cold when he ripped his round-tripper to left-center field.
“Our first base coach was screaming when I knew I had a chance for a home run,” said McGrath, who lives in the financial district of Manhattan.
Chimicles, from the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, ripped a three-run homer in the top of the third to virtually the same spot McGrath stroked his.
“Rounding second I saw my third base coach and you could see him trying to decide whether to send me and then I got the signal to go,” Chimicles said. “It was definitely hard swinging a bat today. You get jammed up and your hands start ringing.”
As the Freedom catcher, Chimicles didn’t have the luxury of tucking his hands into his pockets while waiting for a ball to be put into play.
“Even gripping the ball gave us some trouble some times,” he said. “It was hard to forget about how cold it was but you have to just focus on winning the ballgame. It’s hard but that’s what you have to do.”
In the Freedom first inning, 16 batters produced 13 runs on three hits and seven walks with three errors.
Alex Doctoroff began the rally by scoring on an infield throwing error. McGrath followed with a two-run single, Luca Herron walked with the bases loaded before Gideon Farr stroked a bases-loaded two run single for a 6-0 lead. Declan Larkin walked to complete the first time through the lineup.
The next three batters, leadoff man Matt McGlynn, Doctoroff and Casper Samii, all walked with the bases loaded. McGrath followed Samii with his grand slam sprint around the bases.
McGlynn pitched two innings and allowed two runs on one hit and three walks with six strikeouts. Samii pitched a scoreless third inning with a walk and two strikeouts.
Freedom coach Michael Duffy said the team may have been prepared more than most clubs due to growing a thick skin from choosing to train outside in past seasons.
“I think the biggest thing for us is that we prepare so much,” Duffy said. “Two years ago during COVID we were outside every day in the winter, and we shoveled the field so we could play outside. This year, thankfully, we were indoors a little bit, but it’s just a mindset of, don’t think about the cold, keep moving and keep the energy up, and have the mentality of picking up your teammates.”
Freedom finished 1-2 this weekend. They lost 9-1 to the Connecticut Rage on Saturday, and bowed to Westchester Elite 15-14 on Sunday afternoon.
For Hackettstown, which finished pool play 0-3, Charlie Norton was responsible for both Tigers runs in the bottom of the second, as he singled to left to score Emmet Vargo, and an outfield error allowed Richard Donlon to cross.