Greater Philadelphia MABL 35+ Classic Division
Submitted by John Flagler, Hellbenders manager
The High Bridge Hellbenders began their first season in the Greater Philadelphia Men’s Adult Baseball League 35+ Classic Division this past year with one simple goal: see if there was still enough in the tank to play competitive baseball. After the first few weeks of the season, the Hellbenders, many of whom had not hit a fastball or shagged a fly in almost 20 years, were beginning to see that their skills had not died from laying dormant for almost two decades. While the Hellbenders’ talent level was naturally diminished compared to their high school and college years, it was passion, grit and a strong baseball IQ that filled the gaps once occupied by youth and natural athletic ability.
When the season opened, the Hellbenders had only a few practices to gauge their fielding and hitting competencies. Being that these practices were indoors, it was difficult to see how they would fair on an actual 90’ field. The Hellbenders ran ladder drills and shuffles exercises to see how their bodies would respond to using muscles in a way they hadn’t in years; they also had to go through a host of pulled muscles and sore appendages By the end of April it was clear that this group of men had earned their first win: Hellbenders 1, adversity 0.
As May’s warm sun hung later in the evening sky, the Hellbenders seemed to find the same lasting light in their Sunday evening performances. Wins began to accumulate and loses were much closer. What’s more, the positives outweighed the negatives. The season was young and the potential was great. After finding the appropriate positions for each player, the Hellbenders were redeveloping much faster than previously thought. Shortstops Ethan Millrood and Kevin Molloy were taking turns turning two, while first baseman and team psychologist Paul Kesselman became a defensive wall and an RBI machine. DH George Halter was tearing the cover off the ball along with second baseman Mike Berkman and utility man Jose Irizarry. Base stealing was automatic for outfielders Josh Alter and Joe Kueny, who both split time behind the plate when starting catcher/manager John Flagler needed to step into a starting pitcher role, racking up more innings and fewer walks than any other pitcher in the league. Center fielder Chuck McMullen was making the highlight reel on a weekly basis, while third baseman John Ciocco was putting on his own show over at the hot corner. The potential for being a force in the GPMABL Classic was upon them, and the Hellbenders were primed for a run, especially with players like Bill Andrews and Chad Levine filling the void left by utility man Adam Ritter, when professional obligations rendered him unable to play.
The Hellbenders pushed through the summer with determination and positivity; their playoff run, alas, ended swiftly. With credit to the Bad News Bears, the Hellbenders lost game one of the best-of-three championship series on a walk off suicide squeeze play. It was an outstanding game that lasted almost four hours. The Hellbenders were lacking many of their star players for game two, when they were simply outhit by the Bears.
The 2015 season will show the High Bridge Hellbenders as having lost in the championship, but what it will not show – what it cannot show – is this group of men falling deeply in love with the game of baseball all over again. There’s not a box score nor statistic that can show that.