Sean Cenawood, an assistant coach of the New York Selects 12U travel team, has an interesting comparison in mind when talking about the team he helped form in the summer of 2016.
“The Selects are a loose, easy-going bunch,” Cenawood wrote in recaps he put together for the team members and their families. “They’re driven, and I’ve rarely seen a group of guys so determined to win but never melted under the pressure. It reminded me of the Oakland [Athletics] of the early 1970s.”
There’s more to the comparison, such as drawing parallels of his top pitcher on the Selects to Catfish Hunter and his top slugger on the team to Reggie Jackson. But, one of the main comparisons is that both teams had three championships in three years, which is hard to do when you are a traveling baseball team. Cenawood, who works under head coach Darin Shapiro, knows this team is athletic enough to compete whenever they play.
“I think every season we have high expectations,” said Cenawood. “We got a good group of athletes. It doesn’t always pan out, but we always expect it to be competitive. Our goal every season is to try to be one of the teams that makes it into the playoff rounds.”
The team’s first championship came in the summer of 2016, which happened to be their first season in the Travel League. The second championship came last year, in the fall of 2017, where they had a perfect season. Their third championship came this past fall, and it may have been the best season yet.
“It’s quite a feat for these boys,” said Cenawood. “This isn’t Little League. This is a travel league, so you are going against better athletes. It takes a lot of talent and a little luck. And the key with this season was our pitching and defense.”
The top pitcher on the team is Chaim Stark, whose accuracy and knowledge of the game made him the ace of the Selects this past season. James Cenawood, Sean’s son, was the top slugger of a team full of high-powered hitters.
“James led in all the batting categories in the league,” said Cenawood. “He’s the engine that drives this offense. With Chaim, he’s the one that pushes the pitching staff to be as great as it is. But it’s really a team effort, because unlike a lot of teams we face there aren’t any holes. I can go on about every player on the team.”
This past season, the Selects took on the Whitestone Renegades in the championship game in a battle of great pitchers as Stark took on Sean Sweeney, who won a battle against Stark a few years ago in a 2-1 loss for the Selects. Revenge was in order for this team. In the semifinal, the team rested Stark against the Levittown Tigers in favor of Shakespeare Rodriguez, who had some strong relief games up to that point. After only pitching at the end of the game, Stark was now rested and ready to beat Sweeney once and for all.
“It’s always such a challenge, because you want to make sure you make it to the championship game,” said Cenawood. “On the other hand, you want to have your ace available in the championship game so there’s the conflicting interest. Shakespeare’s presence was huge, so we knew we could start Chaim and ride him for as long as we could.”
The Selects shot out to a 1-0 lead at the bottom of the first, thanks to a third-base hit by Charlie Shapiro and James’s running around the bases. In the second inning, Rodriguez was at bat with Daniel Stashower on third. After a quick pitch by Sweeney that got by the catcher, Stashower was able to notch another run for the team. Thanks to the brilliant pitching by Stark, including changing his pitching mechanics in the fifth inning to throw batters off, the team secured a 2-0 victory and its third championship.
“To watch these kids out there as a coach and as a parent, I see my kid and all his friends out there celebrating, and there’s this moment of pure joy that never goes away and never changes,” said Cenawood. “I took the moment in and enjoyed it because it’s a big deal to them. It’s their equivalent of winning the World Series. Not everyone gets to experience that. The fact that they were able to do this three years in a row is really impressive.
I imagine all of them will take these memories into adulthood.”