FORGET ABOUT movie theaters, concert halls and comedy clubs.
Over the next few weeks, perhaps even longer, the city's best entertainment will be found at baseball practices involving the Olney Redbirds American Legion team.
When Frankford and Thomas Edison met Thursday at Richie Ashburn Field, in South Philly's FDR Park, in front of an animated crowd for the delayed-by-21-hours Public League championship (excessive heat/humidity), the lineups included eight Redbirds mainstays, three for Frankford and five for Edison.
Sometimes, fewer is better. Frankford won, 5-4.
"We're going to go back and forth, talking trash. It's going to be fun," said leftfielder Hector Cerda, one of the Pioneers' heroes.
Pause. Smile. "Well, maybe not for them. I hope they don't take it very, very personally."
Cerda, Frankford's only lefthanded hitter, went 3-for-3 (all singles) in the No. 7 hole and two of those base knocks drove in runs. Another Redbird, junior righthander Omar Cruz, was able to go the distance despite allowing six hits (of nine total) and three runs in the last two innings.
Four of those hits were crunched in the last frame, and they produced two runs, but a 6-4-3 doubleplay, which immediately followed a fouled-off bunt attempt, helped immensely and Cruz wrapped things up, with help from catcher Eduardo "Cheese" Sanchez, on a strikeout/gun-to-first combo.
As the Pioneers formed the ever-popular pile of humanity, second baseman Ricky Alvarez backed away briefly and performed a backflip. Soon, coach Juan Namnun, with maybe 2 minutes in between, was being doused by buckets of ice and a few minutes after that, as the Pioneers began to roar during a team-photo opportunity, Namnun yelled, mindful that his starting lineup included just one senior, "Hey, don't get too excited. Because we're going to do it again next year, too!"
Much later, when asked whether Cruz or Edison's batters had an advantage, with the Redbirds connection in mind, Namnun said, "I would have to say the pitcher. There's always that uncertainty of not knowing what's coming. Plus, the pitcher has an idea of what the batter can handle."
Said the 5-9, 155-pound Cruz: "The advantages go both ways, really. I know how they bat, but they know how I pitch. I didn't pay much attention to that. I just worked my inside-outside routine. I go by location [more than velocity]."
He added, "Well, I did get them with some last-pitch fastballs, which they probably weren't expecting. They know I usually throw curves for my out pitch."
With seven titles in the last 12 years, Frankford has grown accustomed to diamond-dandy status. In stark contrast, Edison was making its first title-game appearance in the program's 55-year history after raising its quarterfinal and semifinal records to 1-19 and 1-4, respectively. (The first four semis appearances occurred during an era when only four teams made the playoffs.)
Though the weather was beautiful, with completely blue skies and no heat/humidity issues, strong winds whipped throughout, almost always straight in from left or left-center, and almost certainly prevented Edison's Nate Coronado from hammering two home runs (as he'd done in Tuesday's semis vs. George Washington).
Cerda, after misjudging and circling, dropped the first and a run resulted. He caught the second.
"There's no doubt in my mind that the wind affected this game," Namnun said.
So did a baserunning mixup.
In the sixth, after a single by Jonathan Maldonado, a walk to pinch-hitter Felipe Montalvo (Lender Vega immediately re-entered to run) and a bobble of Joshua Fontanez' grounder loaded the bases with two away, Nelson Coronado sent an RBI single over Alvarez' head.
Rightfielder Ramon Rosario gunned directly to Sanchez, the catcher. However, Fontanez ran way around second, only to notice that Vega had been held at third by coach Matt Fischer. Sanchez fired to shortstop Israel Diaz. Something had to give. Vega broke for home and was an easy out, leaving the Owls in a 5-2 hole.
Said Fischer: "If I'd gotten Lender thrown out at home with Nate coming up, I would have killed myself."
Noted Cruz: "To have that play go like that, and get an out, that was unexpected. Great job by my rightfielder, catcher and shortstop. They made me very happy."
In the seventh, Nate Coronado singled, stole second and scored on Johnny Pagan's single. Martin Nolasco also singled before Miguel Delgado hit the perfect doubleplay ball to Diaz. Pagan, now at third, scored on Maldonado's single, but the suspense didn't reach full-blown proportions, thanks to Cruz' seventh strikeout.
"That last inning . . . Pressure. Lots of pressure," Cruz said. "When my coach came out to the mound that one time, he told me he believes in me. Another time I looked in the dugout and he was pointing at his chest. I took that as, 'I know you've got the heart!' "
Of the game's nine runs, six were unearned and there were 12 errors. There was also a very strange play: In the second, Pagan bobbled Sanchez' grounder near first and momentarily had no idea where the ball was. Answer: Inside his shirt. Pagan stepped on first for the out while gripping the ball, which was still inside his shirt, at belly level, with his bare hand.
Cerda was the winning pitcher Tuesday in Frankford's semis win over Central. Friday at 1:30, meanwhile, the Pioneers will return to Ashburn Field for a clash vs. Monsignor Bonner for the Class AAAA City Title. Both teams will advance to next week's state tournament.
Cerda's hits included a shot to left and two groundballs to center.
"Every single pitch I hit was a fastball. That's all I was waiting for," he said. "I came in here with a plan: Get it done at the plate and bring the championship home.
"I usually hit better when I'm not pitching. While I'm in the field, I think more about getting in there to hit, so I can bring in runs. Pitching, there's so much to concentrate on."
Now, there will be truly chirping Redbirds, with many playful, cube-busting comments going from Cruz, Cerda and Alvarez to the Coronados, Fontanez, Pagan and Delgado.
"It'll be fun for us," Cruz said.
Frankford was making its eighth finals appearance in 9 years . . . This was the first Pub final to feature Hispanic players exclusively . . . Edison's memorable season was not without controversy. Two overage starters were granted an extra year of eligibility by D-12 honchos . . . Horns and noisemakers, including one that sounded like a police siren, were plentiful . . . Juan Namnun said Frankford's starter vs. Bonner will be Brandon Gonzalez, Israel Diaz or Ricky Alvarez . . . Namnun on Edison: "Powerful lineup. Extremely potent. We had to handle the top and keep that damage to a minimum."
In other games
* Josh Ockimey delivered a two-run single, Joey Gorman, Nicky Nardini and Joey Glennon stroked two hits apiece and four of its five pitchers posted shutout performances as Ss. Neumann-Goretti bested visiting Franklin Towne Charter, 6-1, for the Class AAA City Title.
Ockimey's hit came in the third inning, and extended a 1-0 lead. The Saints did all of their scoring in the first five frames.
Joe Kinee fanned five in the first two innings. Per scoring rules, however, the win went to Joe Jaep, who also pitched shutout ball in the third and fourth.
Angel Lazu singled home FTC's fifth-inning run and Markus Malave had two hits.
* Jake Yannessa pitched a one-hitter (Jovanny Zavala's triple with one out in the fifth), striking out six, and laced a triple en route to two RBI as Springfield Montco defeated Esperanza in five innings, 11-1, in an AA subregional final at Ashburn Field.
Jeff Escolatico's second-inning sacrifice fly accounted for Esperanza's run.