The following anthology is a look at the Westchester Rockland Wood Bat League's (WRWBL) history. This anthology was created to pay homage to those who helped found the league and to officially record its progression. From it's early roots as four teams playing round robin games in 1993, to the official founding in 1994 as the Westchester Putnam Men's Adult Baseball League (WPMABL), to its current iteration as a collegiate-level wood bat league.
1993-1995 -- The Early Years: A League is Born
The Westchester/Rockland Wood Bat League (WRWBL) traces its roots back to 1993 when Ms. Elizabeth Vinberg of Somers, New York believed there should be a recreational league for players 18 and up who did not have a place to play. Individually, this mother of two who was married to an avid baseball player set out building the league by placing ads in the local paper for teams and players while reaching an agreement with the Men’s Adult Baseball League (MABL) for chapter status and insurance proviso. In 1993, five teams including the Somers Orioles, Somers Storm, Cross River Indians, Putnam Cobras and Yonkers Black Sox would play a round-robin schedule and what is now known as the WRWBL was born. Officially founded in 1994 as the Westchester/Putnam MABL (WPMABL), the league added five teams to the mix including the Westchester Wildcats (now known as the Peekskill Tides), Yonkers Yankees, New York Diamonds, Rockland Federales and Bronx Reds. The WPMABL would continue to fluxuate during the late 90’s adding teams like the Northern Highlanders, Sound Shore Knights and Ossining Prison Keepers in 1996. The Mount Kisco Horseman would join 1998 and the Tarrytown Lookouts, Pleasantville Red Sox and Danbury Barons would enter the league in 1999.
1995-1998 -- Yonkers Yankees Dominate WPMABL Play
From 1995-1998 the league was dominated by the Yonkers Yankees who won four straight WPMABL titles. Led by player/manager Mike Kaseman and pitcher/shortstop Mike Marano the Yankees became a championship institution playing home games at Welty and Fleming Fields in Yonkers. This brash cast of characters included 6'10 pitcher (and former Fairfield University basketball star) John Coulter, catcher Chris Lauria, third baseman Tommy Vazquez, Tommy Cahill as well as outfielders Gus DeBellis and Joe O'Grady. The Yankees became the team everyone chased. Their roster made up almost entirely of college players forced the other managers to find higher quality players in order to compete. The Yankees success was an early harbinger that the league would one day be home to several hundred collegiate players.
1999-2000 -- Pleasantville Red Sox End Yankees Reign
It's fitting that a team named the Red Sox would end the Yankees unfettered reign over the league. In 1999 the Pleasantville Red Sox in the most dramatic championship series in league history would end the four-year run by defeating the Yankees two games to one in the best of three series at at Reis Park in Somers . The series which was played over one hot August weekend (Friday-Saturday-Sunday) saw all three games go extra innings. The Red Sox took game one of the series Friday night. Game two was then highlighted by a dramatic walk-off grand slam by Yankees third basemen Tommy Vazquez which erased a three-run 12th inning deficit and staved off elimination for the Yankees. But in the end, the Sox were not to be denied winning a 10-inning deciding game for their first of back-to-back championships in 1999 and 2000. In 2000, Scott Perlman would pitch the Sox to their second straight title defeating a young and inexperienced Danbury Barons club in the finals. The Barons however would be heard from again and very soon.
1999-2000 -- Name Change Flames Out; League Stares Down Crisis
In 2000, to reflect its new geography the league re-branded itself the Hudson Valley MABL or HVMABL. However, this new name was short lived and was dropped after just one season. Additionally, after seven years of simultaneously running the league and her team the Somers Orioles, Ms. Vinberg would leave both after the 2000 season. Unfortunately, at this point the league was on life support, facing steep financial troubles, strained relations with its umpires and no long-term direction. Realizing the severity of the situation the managers of the remaining teams took action. In a historic gathering that has become known to those in attendance as the ‘basement meeting’ -- managers from the nine remaining clubs came together in the basement of current league trustee Scott Perlman’s home that fall. Represented that evening were the Pleasantville Red Sox, Yonkers Yankees, Danbury Barons, Tarrytown Lookouts, Northern Highlanders, Mount Kisco Horseman, Rockland Cavaliers, Cross River Indians and the Westchester Cubs. After a long discussion, the managers unanimously voted 9-0 to leave the MABL and move in a different direction. They all agreed the league needed a centralized approach including an independent commissioner, equitable rulebook, transparent finances, long-term relationships with fields and officials and a better national chapter partner. The group asked two managers, Mike Kaseman (Yonkers Yankees) and Chris Jones (then the Lookouts manager) to lead the search for a new commissioner and national partner. In November 2000, the league ceased being a chapter of the Men’s Adult Baseball League and became an affiliate of the National Adult Baseball Association (NABA) based in Denver, Colorado. The league would be renamed the Westchester Rockland NABA or WRNABA. In December of 2000, the managers made their next major decision. They agreed to ratify J. Stephen Madey a local collegiate umpire as its first independent commissioner. Madey would serve in the role for six seasons overseeing a period of unprecedented growth.
2001 -- A New Beginning
The fall and winter of 2000/2001 was very busy as the managers feverishly worked together to create and build the infrastructure and institutions the league still rests upon today. None of the mechanisms in place now existed then. It was a daunting challenge to pull off in one short offseason. This included settling large outstanding debts from the previous administration, negotiating a contract with a new umpire’s union led by then assignor Sal DiGrandi, developing a completely new financial payment system, creating a rule book and rules committee apparatus entirely from scratch and launching the league’s first website. All of this work happened in a 120-day period before the start of the 2001 season. Managers meetings were held bi-weekly that entire winter.
There were many decisions Steve Madey made as commissioner that helped the league prosper, but none was more important than urging the organization to become the area’s first full-time wood bat league. Previous years saw some wood-bat weekends and sampling with wood bats. But Madey believed this was the best way to set the WRNABA apart. After a contentious discussion and by a narrow vote of 7-5 the teams decided to play all wood for the first time in 2001. It was a defining moment in the league’s history and one that helped it surge in popularity. The switch to wood would become the underpinning of a tidal wave of growth for the league. With wood bats as the standard of play college and former pro players flooded into our teams. Colleges took notice and fields once closed to the league became staples of our schedule. The WRNABA quickly grew adding teams like the Carmel White Sox, New York Monarchs, New City Outlaws, New York City T-Dogs, Brooklyn Falcons and Yonkers Indians (now Eastchester Red Birds) to its ranks. At one point the WRNABA was 18-teams playing a 34 game regular season schedule.
In wanting to set the league apart, Madey continued to push the managers to find ways to differentiate the WRNABA from other local leagues. This led to the decision to create a championship cup before the start of the 2001 season. The trophy would be the symbol of the league and serve as a Stanley Cup type award with the championship team’s name and the name of its players inscribed on it each season. Additionally, the managers decided to create professional style awards each year – including a league MVP, CY Young, Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Gold Gloves which would be distributed at an all-star game event for family and friends at the end of the year. Along with a robust website the WRNABA was now thriving and saw nearly 700 people attend its first all-star game and family picnic which included music, entertainment for the kids and a homerun hitting contest at Pace University. The first season in 2001 saw a 12-team league play a 22-game weekend only schedule. In the end, the league’s two top-seeded teams and growing rivals – #1 Danbury Barons (20-2) and #2 Tarrytown Lookouts (19-3) faced off in a best of three series for the right to be the first team etched onto the championship cup. Despite having two late leads in games one and two the Lookouts could not hold on and the Barons proved their championship mettle each time rallying for 9-7 and 5-4 victories becoming the league’s first wood bat champion. Lookouts outfielder Bobby Accardi would become the league’s first MVP. The Barons Nick Rhodes would secure the only Triple Crown in league history and Tommy Bergstrand of the Yonkers Yankees would win the first CY Young. Nine players would take home the league’s first gold gloves including Barons outfielder and WRWBL Hall of Fame member Mat Terrillion who would go on to win four more – for a league record of five.
2001-2004 -- Shining Under the Lights & On the Road
The explosion of growth during the 2001 season led to two major developments during the 2002 off-season – an expanded schedule and the decision to play weeknight games. From its founding in 1994 until 2001 the league played exclusively on weekends. Now with more teams, players and games the league decided to expand again -- moving from a 20-game weekend schedule to a 28-game schedule with baseball under the lights at fields including Rumbrook Park, Fleming Field, Germonds Field, Roberto Clemente State Park. Ryan’s Field in Carmel and Western Connecticut State University. Other lighted fields were added as well including Clarkstown South High School, Fordham University, Peekskill Stadium and IBM Field in Armonk. The decision to play mid-week night games helped exponentially grow the league. In 2003, 18 teams played a 34-game schedule and more than 400 players competing that summer with the league enjoying its best year to date.
Another area where the league branched out was regional and national tournaments. In 2001, the Lookouts became the first WRNABA to travel. They entered the Hall of Fame Tournament in Cooperstown, NY defeating teams from California, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Connecticut before eventually losing in the finals to the Palm Beach, Florida Rockets 10-6. The very next year the Barons arrived in Cooperstown winning five straight games to win the tournament. These developments led to other teams traveling to tournaments around the country helping the WRNABA develop a strong reputation. Since 2001, more than 15 WRWBL teams have traveled to Cooperstown with the Barons (2002), Peekskill Tides (2007) and the Rockland Cavaliers (2008) winning the tourney. Additionally, the New City Outlaws won the Atlantic City Invitational Tournament three consecutive years from 2004-2006 while the Red Sox, T-Dogs and Yonkers Indians competed in the Citrus Classic in Florida each year. Additionally, the Lookouts would travel to Evansville, Indiana and place third in the United States Baseball Congress (USBC) World Series defeating the nation's #3 ranked team and host Evansville Outlaws while there. In 2005 the Lookouts and Barons now bitter rivals would combine to knock off the Brunswick Orioles the #1 ranked team in the nation; both by shutout on back-to-back nights at the National Semi-Pro Baseball Northeast Regional. On a muggy Friday night the Lookouts would get a complete game shutout from starter Jared Monti and Mike Bohlander would hit a dramatic eighth inning homer to give the club a 3-0 win. The next day the Barons would get eight innings of shutout work from Griffin Occhigrossi and a ninth inning save from Mat Terrillion to eliminate the Orioles 2-0. It was the first time the Orioles lost via back-to-back shutout in their history. Coming into the tournament the Orioles were 54-6 over their last 60 games. The performance by both teams spoke volumes about how the league had arrived on a national scene.
Seeing the potential of the league on a national stage the managers decided to create an all-star team to compete in the NABA National Championships in Phoenix, Arizona each fall. The all-star team would have at least one representative from each team and open tryouts for the remaining spots. Honoring Westchester County resident and New York Yankees great Lou Gehrig, the team became known as the New York Iron Horse. As planning for the 2001 trip was occurring the attacks of September 11th resulted in the tournament being cancelled. In 2002 the team again was not able to get out west due to lack of funding. But after a concerted fundraising effort, the Iron Horse played their first games in 2003 reaching the quarterfinal round of the tournament. The Iron Horse would return to Phoenix in 2004 reaching the final four of the 32-team tournament losing in the semifinals to the eventual national champion Los Angeles Venados 4-2 at the Seattle Mariners minor league complex in Peoria, Arizona. The Iron Horse would disband after 2004 and two trips out west. However, the Iron Horse returned in 2008 with a third trip to Phoenix most recently.
2002 -- Media Begins to Notice
The 2002 season was another strong one for the league with the upstart and expansion New City Outlaws racing to a #2 seed and first-ever trip to the finals. But a resilient #4 seeded Lookouts club eliminated their rivals the #1 seeded Barons in an epic semifinal extra innings affair and went on to sweep the young Outlaws for the second wood bat championship. Outlaws pitcher and outfielder Chris Berretta would win the league MVP, Barons hurler Greg Palanzo the CY Young and four different pitchers would record eight wins that season demonstrating the depth of the league’s pitching.
In 2002 the WRWBL also began to catch the eye of the regional news press. During the season the league was featured in The New York Times as a model of how to run amateur league, the Journal News which did a front page story on the switch to wood bats and the North County News covered the league’s rise as well. The WRWBL also saw the arrival of TV, as the league’s games became a staple of News 12 Westchester’s sports news wrap-up each night during the summer.
2003 -- WRWBL is Launched; Hall of Fame Created & Outlaws Bounce Back
In 2003 the league added the New York City Thunderdogs and the talents of manager Chris Duggan. An award winning graphic designer, Duggan took on the task of creating the branding the league now utilizes. In the winter of 2003 the WRNABA was once again renamed -- this time as the Westchester Rockland Wood Bat League or WRWBL. The new name corresponded with a fresh logo, re-modeled website and a moniker that fit the league’s mission. The new pitcher logo reflected the league’s strength and the bridge was a nod in honor of the Tappan Zee Bridge which divides the two counties. Duggan would design professional looking logos for many of the teams including the Cavaliers, Red Sox, Barons, Lookouts, Outlaws, Tides, T-Dogs and Monarchs. This professional image only added to the distinction of being a member of the WRWBL.
Once again looking to differentiate itself, the WRWBL in honor of its 10th anniversary (dating back to 1994) created a league Hall of Fame. Two players and one administrator were inducted. Mike Kaseman, player/manager of the Yonkers Yankees, Jamie Giaquinto, first baseman of the Pleasantville Red Sox and long-time Pace University coach Fred Caliaconne became members of the first HOF class. This honor would become an annual tradition. Since that first induction the league has honored five additional HOF classes and has grown to 16 players, two managers and two league administrators. The WRWBL estimates that more than 2000 players, coaches and administrators have participated in the league since 1994. The 20 Hall of Fame inductees represent less than one percent making this the highest honor our league can award.
The 2003 finals saw a repeat of the 2002 match-up but in reverse. This time the #4 seeded Outlaws outlasted the #2 seeded Lookouts who were making their third straight finals appearance two games to one. The Outlaws championship was both a euphoric and somber one. Pitching the final game was Chris Berretta who a week earlier had survived a vicious car wreck that left his girlfriend and team manager Amy Herringshaw clinging to life. Pitching the deciding game with a heavy heart and injuries sustained just one week earlier Berretta led his team to a 7-3 win. Skipping the celebration, the team then immediately went in its entirety to visit Amy’s bedside with the trophy. After a long road, she would recover fully and is still present at nearly every one of Chris' games.
2004 -- Outlaws Dominate But Barons Triumph
In 2004 the Outlaws dominated the league racing to a 31-3 record. Everything about the season pointed to back-to-back championships. With former major league pitcher Pat Gorman closing games out of the bullpen the Outlaws looked unbeatable. But in the finals the Barons got great pitching and a huge homerun from Joe Hackert who smacked a Gorman offering (the only earned run he allowed all season) over the right field wall at Pace University. The dinger put an exclamation point on their second WRWBL championship. 2004 also saw a significant milestone passed as Barons manager Vinny Carlucci became the first skipper to win 100 games earning the 13-2 victory against the team’s arch rival the Tarrytown Lookouts on August 6, 2004 at Rumbrook Park.
2005 -- Brooklyn Falcons & Rockland Cavaliers Provide New Look Finals
The 2005 season brought some change as the expansion Brooklyn Falcons a club that had a strong showing in New York City leagues willed their way to a championship. Playing the #2 seeded Rockland Cavaliers who a few years earlier were an abysmal 1-25, the Falcons were five outs away from losing the series. The club was down two games to none in game three of the best of five series having been thoroughly outplayed up till that point. However they pulled together a late rally that would keep their hopes alive. Then two improbable victories later in games four and five had the Falcons becoming the first (and only) team from the five boroughs of New York to win the WRWBL cup. They also became the first team to win three straight games in the finals round as well. With the victory the league had a new champion and new runner-up ending the Barons, Lookouts, Outlaws rotation of championship winners.
2006-2007 -- Barons & Outlaws Back on Top; Madey Steps Down
In 2006 and 2007 the change was short lived as the Barons and Outlaws would flip flop the trophy from Danbury to New City. In 2006 the Barons won their third championship over the Outlaws sending 10-year WRWBL veteran, team captain and Hall of Fame member Tommy Gergely out in style. In 2007 the Outlaws bounced back winning their second title for manager Joe Maggino defeating Danbury in the finals. After the 2006 season, long-time commissioner Steve Madey decided to step-down in order to run a baseball league for disabled children called the Miracle League. He remains to this day a trustee and was inducted into the league’s Hall of Fame in 2007. In his place stepped Paul Marino, manager of the Peekskill Tides and an attorney in White Plains. Marino would steward the league in this interim co-role for two seasons before stepping down as manager of the Tides to become the league’s second independent commissioner in 2008.
2008 -- 15th Anniversary & All-Rockland Final
The league’s 15th anniversary season in 2008 saw its first all-Rockland County final with the gritty #4 seeded Rockland Cavaliers team led by the pitching of Cy Young winner and championship series MVP Scott Picerno claiming their first notch on the WRWBL Cup. The Cavs got two fantastic starts from their ace and earned their first championship in their team’s 10th anniversary season. The Cavs, who held the dubious honor of most losses in a season (25), capped a complete franchise turnaround going from worst to first. In doing so, they became the first team in league history to finish in last place (2002) and also win a championship proving that anyone can claim the cup each summer.
2009 -- WRWBL Now an Indy, New Commissioner, New Website, New Clubs
As the 2009 season approaches the WRWBL continues to grow and evolve. After nine seasons the league decided to disaffiliate with the National Adult Baseball Association (NABA). The league will now move forward as an independent league a tribute to its strength. Additionally, after a five year run as manager of the Peekskill Tides, Paul Marino steps down to assume the role as the league's second full-time commissioner. There will be change on the field as well, after nine seasons the Westchester Cubs left the WRWBL and were replaced by two new teams the Suffern Blue Devils and the Rockland Rebels. The two new clubs give the league a true Rockland division with four clubs and what is shaping up to be a hotly contested county for players and victories! The Rebels will be led by former Outlaws pitcher Chris Berretta while the Blue Devils bring a youthful roster of college ballplayers to the league led by skipper Vinny Randazzo. Another exciting development was the relaunch of WRWBL.com. The new totally revamped site will offer the league a much more polished and robust website then ever before.
2009 -- Cavaliers Make History With Back-to-Back Wood Bat Championships
As in 2008, the WRWBL hosted a repeat all Rockland Championship Final with the #2 seeded Outlaws now taking on the defending champion and #1 seeded Rockland Cavaliers. With the balance of power in the league clearly shifted over the Tappan Zee Bridge, the Cavaliers accomplished something no team in the previous nine wood bat seasons could -- earn back-to-back titles. With the game three victory at Pace University recorded in a driving rain storm the Cavaliers etched their place in WRWBL championship lore eclipsing the previous accomplishments of elite teams like the Yonkers Yankees, Danbury Barons, Pleasantville Red Sox and the very same Outlaws. The Cavs had gone from a woeful 1-25 in 2002 -- the worst single season ever recorded to back-to-back champions marking the most dramatic turnaround in WRWBL history. The Cavaliers are now the league's king of the mountain going wire-to-wire winning the regular season best record, #1 playoff seed and then a repeat championship. Not to be overlooked is the New City Outlaws' dominance as well. With this championship appearance the Outlaws have now reached the finals five out of the past seven seasons winning two titles. With the up and coming Suffern Blue Devils it has become evident that this is the Rockland/Westchester Wood Bat League! Can a Westchester team emerge to challenge the boys west of the Hudson...we'll see in 2010!