Players from the Atlantic Shore Babe Ruth baseball team grew up in different towns.
They played for rival Little Leagues as youngsters.
These days, they play for different high schools that are often matched against each other in heated, intense games.
But each of the past three summers, this group of rivals has come together to form one of country’s best Babe Ruth teams.
“We knew of each other back when we were 10 and 11,” said 16-year-old Cody Sadreameli, of Northfield, who attends St. Augustine Prep. “We just became a group of real good friends. We’ve come together as one.”
Atlantic Shore begins play in the Babe Ruth 13-15-year-old World Series in Loudon County, Va., on Saturday. Ten teams from as far away as Washington state will compete for the championship. Atlantic Shore will open against Cranston, R.I., at 11 a.m. Saturday. The championship is scheduled for Aug. 24.
“It’s a real good feeling,” said Zach Zellers, of Ocean City. “Everyone is ready to go. It’s really exciting. I’m so grateful to have this.”
The Atlantic Shore League is for players ages 13 to 15. The league consists of teams from Absecon, Brigantine, Egg Harbor Township, Hamilton Township, Linwood, Mullica Township, Northfield, Ocean City, Somers Point, Upper Township and Ventnor.
The core of this team has been together for three years.
They lost the 14-year-old Mid-Atlantic Regional final to Branchburg, Somerset County, last year. In 2011, Atlantic Shore beat Branchburg 11-1 to win the 13-year-old Mid-Atlantic title. Atlantic Shore advanced to the Babe Ruth 13-year-old World Series in Clifton, N.Y., where they went 2-2.
“You always have different personalities, but these boys genuinely like each other,” Atlantic Shore coach Joe Iannuzzelli said. “It’s an amazing thing to see.”
The players have a hard time explaining it, but they said they bonded quickly when they first came together as 13-year-olds. The first thing that brought them together was their talent. They immediately recognized they had the potential to be a good team.
Center fielder Anthony Boselli said their personalities naturally blended.
“There’s a couple of loud guys,” said Boselli, a 15-year-old from Ventnor who attends Holy Spirit. “There’s a couple of quiet guys, and there are people who are in between.”
One of the loud guys is Joe Hartley, a sophomore at Holy Spirit and a Ventnor resident. He gets the team going whenever it’s in a funk.
“He keeps everybody loose,” Iannuzzelli said. “If there’s a little lull, I make eye contact with Joey, and it won’t be quiet for long.”
This year, Atlantic Shore dominated the Mid-Atlantic Region. They were 6-0 with five shutouts in the tournament that was played in Somers Point and at Surf Stadium in Atlantic City. The players mobbed each other after the final out of their 3-0 championship win over South Shore, N.Y., on Aug. 7.
The victory turned the players into mini-celebrities. Friends and family called to wish them good luck. Strangers congratulated Sadreameli as he ate in a Margate restaurant this week.
“A man came up and said, ‘Congratulations,’” Sadreameli said. “I said, ‘Thank you.’ I had never seen the guy in my life. It makes you feel really good.”
Since they won regionals, the Atlantic Shore players, coaches and families have been scrambling to prepare for the trip.
At past World Series, players stayed with host families. But that’s not the case this year. Players must stay in a hotel, and that increases expenses. The team held a fundraiser Wednesday night at the Roman Grill restaurant in Linwood.
“The logistics are a nightmare,” Iannuzzelli said. “But the nightmare is worth it.”
The players have been waiting for two years to get to a World Series. They were deeply disappointed by their loss in last year’s regional final.
Families are using vacation time to travel to Virginia. Neither Iannuzzelli nor his assistant coaches, Jack Taggart and Bill Rauzzino, has a son on the team. They’re simply passionate about baseball, and they changed their work schedules to be able to travel to Virginia.
Taggart is in construction, and Rauzzino is a dentist. Iannuzzelli, a Ventnor firefighter, traded shifts with co-workers.
“I’m going to owe a lot of favors when I get back,” he said.
The World Series is a celebration of baseball. Boselli remembers fans filling the stands at the Clifton Park World Series in New York two years ago.
“It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had,” he said. “The people on your side are pulling for you and cheering for you, and then you have the other side doing the same thing. It’s bigger than anything back home.”
In Virginia, the 10 teams will be divided into two pools of five. Each team will play four games. The top three teams in each group will advance to a single-elimination medal round.
Atlantic Shore wants to advance out of pool play, something it didn’t do in 2011.
But more than winning and losing, the players plan to relish the experience.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Zellers said. “It will be awesome meeting the other people and bonding with my teammates.”
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