Sam Rodio, the coach of Hammonton’s Atlantic County Baseball League team, remembers the excitement of playing his 2003 senior season for Hammonton High School.
Rodio would like the seven seniors who would have played on Hammonton’s high school team this spring to experience a bit of that, too.
All spring high school sports in the state were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But thanks to Rodio and his ACBL team, the Hammonton seniors will get one last chance to play as a team.
Rodio’s team, sometimes known as the Hot Shots, will play the Hammonton seniors and some alumni in an exhibition game at 7 p.m. July 11 at Hammonton Lake Park. It will be the seniors’ only game. The contest has no official connection to Hammonton High School.
Those Blue Devils seniors include pitcher/first baseman Bobby Esau, shortstop Gino Serechia, catcher Ryan Barts, outfielders Frank Bartolone and Hunter McDuff, pitcher/utility fielder TJ Ruggeri and pitcher/first baseman Nick Neall.
“All the seniors are really good kids, and I know of few of them personally,” Rodio, 35, said. “Their season got taken away, and I felt bad for them. I suggested (the game) to my team, and all the guys liked the idea. I reached out to all the Hammonton players, and they were all on board with the idea.”
Rodio ran the idea through the proper channels.
“I talked to the Mayor (Steve DiDonato), the City Council and the Parks and Recreation people, and they were all in favor of it,” Rodio said.
Rodio plans for the game to be played in a relaxed fashion.
“It’ll be a low-key game, but we’ll try to make it a fun, competitive game,” Rodio said. “We made it nine innings (instead of ACBL and high school’s usual seven) because we want to give the seniors some more time to play. Those seven seniors are good players. They’re liable to beat us.”
Admission will be free. “It’s an exhibition, a pickup game,” he said. “There’s no financial aspect. We may sell a little food, but we’re not trying to raise funds.”
In 2019, the Hammonton High School team went 16-7 (5-3 Tri-County Conference Royal Division). The Blue Devils reached the South Jersey Group III semifinals before losing to Cherry Hill West 10-2.
Serechia hit .378 (28 for 74) with two doubles, three triples, 15 walks and five stolen bases.
“I’ve been dying to play. I’m really excited to get this chance,” said Serechia, 18. “I’ve been working out on my own. It’ll be great to show what I can do. It’ll be the last chance to play with my guys. Hopefully, there’ll be a good amount of people, and we’ll safe distance. I’m hoping we’ll give them a good show.”
Esau struck out nine in 16 innings in 2019.
“I’m a little nervous because it’s only one game, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to play this,” said Esau, 18. “I grew up watching them (the Hammonton ACBL team). Every time you go see them, they throw 90 mph.
“We lost a lot of seniors last year, but we had a lot back, and I think we would have had a good season.”
The Hammonton ACBL team was the league champion in 2015 and 2016. The team went 15-13 in 2019 and lost to Northfield in the semifinals.
The ACBL’s 135th season is scheduled to begin July 6.
Hammonton ACBL pitcher Branon Kincaid certainly remembers his senior season at Hammonton because the Blue Devils went 20-7 and won the S.J. Group III title. Kincaid played football and baseball for the Blue Devils and graduated in 2012.
“It’s tough that they lost their senior year because it’s so important,” said Kincaid, 26. “For some, it’s the last time they’ll play the game. We’re giving them a memory of playing with their best friends. It’ll be the last hurrah for them as a group.”