Item Sports Editor Steve Krause sat down with 1983 Lynn Babe Ruth World Series champs (l-r) Mark Giardina, Ray Veguilla, Rich Fucci and Steve Roney at Tony’s Pub before the World Series-bound Lynn 15s depart for North Dakota this week.
By Steve Krause
LYNN — Enjoy it. It may never happen again.
That’s the message players from Lynn’s 1983 Babe Ruth All-Star team that won the World Series gives to the boys who will leave Thursday to compete in this year’s national tournament in North Dakota.
“Enjoy every moment,” said Ray Veguilla, who was a catcher and a pitcher on that ‘83 team of 13-year-olds who went to Michigan and came home with the World Series title. “You’ll never have that moment again.”
Last month, when this year’s team defeated North Providence/Smithfield, R.I., in the New England Regional title game, manager Leon Elwell praised his players.
“They’re a great group of kids,” he said. “They care about each other.”
Rich Fucci, another of the Lynn 13s from 1983, understands how that can be more important than all the skill in the world.
“We weren’t the most talented team,” he said. “Going into the tournament, we clearly weren’t the favorites. But we played together as a team and that’s what made the difference.
“Every last player on that team is going to have a role to play,” Fucci said. “We had our stars, like (Giardina) and Mark Debasitis (the tournament’s MVP). But there will be role players too, and they’ll be important.”
Elwell has also said that as the games get bigger, it’s important to remember “this is the same game you’ve been playing since you were five years old.”
Again, the 13s from ‘83 have a unique understanding of what that means.
“It’s important to go into these games with a level of confidence,” said Mark Giardina, an outfielder on the team. “You just keep doing the same things you did to get you there,” he said. “Keep focusing on every pitch, every at-bat. Don’t take anything for granted. Execute. That’s what he means. If you look at it that way, you won’t get too tight.”
Steve Roney, who his teammates say threw 55 miles per hour but always hit his spots, said that the players on this year’s team should keep their goal in mind.
“Set that goal, and know that nothing’s going to stop you from reaching it,” he said. “Do that, and you’ll do fine.”
From left, Mark Giardina, Ray Veguilla, Rich Fucci and Steve Roney. (Photo by Bob Roche)
In 1983, Lynn had three hotly-contested tournaments to get ready for the World Series, and the players recall nothing was easy leading up to it.
“Even on the local level, we had some tough games,” Giardina said. “I remember we beat Saugus 10-8. We had tough games against Revere and Beverly.”
Veguilla recalled that Cambridge brought its celebration to the field in its game against Lynn, certain it would win the state championship.
“They brought the float to the field,” he said. “That’s how sure they were that they were going to win.”
But victory belonged to Lynn. And in the states, Veguilla said, “there was a team from Stamford, Conn., that was supposed to be THE team. Every step along the way, there was some team that we weren’t supposed to beat.”
Giardina, too, recalled doubters.
“When we got back from Maine, where the regionals were held, I went down to the park behind English and someone there told me ‘you guys don’t have a chance,’” he said. “Why would someone say that?”
Because, said Fucci, “we were going up against teams from California and Washington who played all the time. Nobody’d ever heard of us. But by the time we left, everybody had heard of us.”
With all that doubt, it couldn’t have helped Lynn that it lost the first game of the World Series against Nashville, Tenn.
“In a way, though, I think it helped us,” Fucci said. “From that point on, all we had to focus on was winning the next game. Just win the next game.
At the time, the World Series was a double-elimination format, as opposed to pool play this year. As a result, Lynn got the opportunity to play Nashville again, and won.
“I think after that game, we really began thinking we could do this,” said Fucci, who is now a Lynn police officer.
There was also a victory over West New York, N.J., that got Lynn into the finals against Santa Maria, Calif.
“After that game, a couple of us got called up to do interviews,” Giardina said. “And I kept thinking that usually it’s someone from Texas or California or one of those places that wins these things. And I thought ‘why not us?’”
Rich Fucci’s 1983 World Series ring.
By the time Lynn played California, “it was a done deal,” said Roney, who went undefeated in that post-season. “No question we were going to win.”
The summer of ‘83 was a hot one, and Niles, Mich., was no exception. It was 100 degrees and Lynn played a doubleheader.
“Neither game was close,” said Fucci. “I know that the Santa Maria team gave up a lot of walks. I think it was something like 15 walks.”
Veguilla caught the first game, and then pitched for part of the second.
“I was so tired that I went back to my host family’s house and fell asleep,” he said. “I missed the whole after-party. Nobody woke me up.”
Among the highlights, all four agreed, was the visit to Notre Dame. South Bend, Ind., directly across the state border from Niles, Mich.
“That was awesome,” Giardina said. “There was a banquet there, and Ernie Banks, Mr. Cub, was the main speaker. We got to see the stadium, and Touchdown Jesus. It was great.”
Some might think that a summer given over to baseball and tournaments might have been a little too much for a 13-year-old. Not so, said Fucci.
“We had fun, let me tell you,” he said. “We got the most out of it. And when it was all over, it was time for school again.”
Veguilla talked of the letdown.
“After it all ended, I was just sitting at home, and there was nothing to do,” he said in a cautionary tone. “I was depressed. I didn’t know what to do.”
All these years later, the players’ reflection on the experience includes how much they accomplished.
“The fact that it hasn’t happened in 33 years is a pretty good indication of that,” said Fucci, with Roney adding that following this year’s team has brought the ‘83 experience flooding back.
Some, like Giardina and Veguilla went onto play high school baseball, both winning state championships with St. Mary’s. Others, including Debasitis, didn’t play baseball again, though he did play football.
Fucci acknowledges he peaked at 13.
“I still have my ring,” he said. “People joke with me. They say I hit my peak at 13. I tell them, ‘at least I had a peak.’”
They all owe a lot of what they accomplished to manager Gene Tetreault and coach Pat Lussiano, both of whom had since died.
“They were great,” said Fucci. “To both of them, wherever they are, if they can hear us, ‘thank you.’”
The Lynn Babe Ruth 15-year-old All-Star team will be competing in the World Series in Williston, N.D., beginning Saturday. Item Sports Editor Steve Krause will be in Williston beginning Friday to cover the team in its quest to bring back a national championship. Starting today, The Item will be reporting on all facets of the World Series.