The WW-P American Legion baseball team didn’t just have a mix of experience among its players this year, but also among its co-managers.
They brought in Bob DeLuca, a veteran coach from the Hamilton A’s program, to work with Andrew Schoenblum, who was only a year removed from playing Legion. It didn’t take long for him to gain managerial experience.
“He wasn’t that far removed from the kids. I was supposed to manage, and my father passed away in May so Andrew took over for three weeks,” DeLuca said. “I want to make sure he gets credit, because we had wisdom on my side and youthful enthusiasm on his side, it worked well together. Without Andrew, none of this would have worked.”
Schoenblum was happy to help bring back WW-P. After he played for the 2016 Legion team, WW-P did not field a Legion team in 2017.
“That’s tough to see as a graduate, so I reached out to Steve Lichtenstein, who’s the GM, and I said I’d be happy to help out,” Schoenblum said. “He eventually actually interviewed me for the head coach role. We both agreed that maybe it’d be better if I helped out and got my feet wet as the assistant. So he brought in Bob, and then unfortunately Bob’s father passed away very early on so I was actually on my own from the beginning for a little bit.”
Schoenblum, who will be a junior at Alvernia University where he balances playing golf and baseball, called upon all of his experience as he managed the team in the early going.
“It was kind of cool to have that responsibility,” Schoenblum said. “It would have been nice to have Bob and learn from him right away from the get-go, but sometimes when you’re just thrown in the fire, and it’s the best way to learn.”
Players for WW-P included Sean Hodges, Benjamin Simon, Daniel Frascella, Jacob Mitchell, Jack Lichtenstein, Scott Doherty, Joshua Eisenberg, Cole Millinger, Alejandro Rivera, Dylan Welch, Christopher Bluni, Ian Muni, Benjamin Goldstein, Ryan Strype, Luke Potts, Andrew SantaMaria, Thomas Dileo and Cole Benner.
“We had a very good mix,” DeLuca said. “At the beginning of the season I said if we get through the first 10 games at .500,we’ll have a great season. We lost some games early by one or two runs. They were hard teams we played up front.”
Early on, WW-P showed it could play with anyone, though they had trouble coming out on top. The season opened with a 1-0 loss to Broad Street Park that would show a trend that continued through June, but WW-P also showed a determination that would push it to finish the season strong.
After losing their first four games, WW-P scored three straight wins. What followed was a nine-game losing streak to close out June. In July, however, th eteam won four of six games and finished the season on a three-game winning streak to finish 7-15 overall, with nine losses coming by two or fewer runs.
“I’m very proud of their effort,” DeLuca said. “Their heart was what I was hoping would take over. They never quit at any time. It’s easy to get demoralized when lose so many close games, but the character came through.”
WW-P is a young team overall. Many of the young players that made up this year’s team played on the WW-P Babe Ruth 15-year-old all-star team that advanced to the World Series last year, and the older members came from North and South. They blended together over the Legion season.
“I think that worked to our advantage because the 15-year-old Babe Ruth team, those kids are young and they have a lot of potential and talent which was good to have,” Schoenblum said. “They were motivated because they got a taste of winning, which was great. The older kids could mentor them and could be a great help.”
One of the young bright spots was Potts, who developed into a top pitcher in the Mercer County American Legion League. He finished in the top five in strikeouts and helped in the field and at the plate.
“I learned that the better you know your teammates, the better you’ll perform as a team,” said Potts, who will be a junior at South. “And that baseball isn’t a predictable sport. Our team had a record that was under .500, but that didn’t really show who we really were. If we played a team with a positive record, we would give them a run for their money.”
“We showed a lot of growth over the entire course of the season,” Schoenblum said. “For a program to be thrown into the fire, with being a fresh program since we didn’t play last year, it’s hard to know where you’re at, so it was good to go along and play. It was tough to lose a lot of games, but over the course of a season, the kids realized it’s not good enough to just be competing. They wanted to win. They wanted to bury teams at the end.”
In the final weeks, WW-P was able to play spoiler and give themselves some inspiration and results to build on going into the fall season.
“We actually knocked two teams’ playoff chances down,” Schoenblum said. “I believe Lawrence sneaked in after we beat them, but North Hamilton, they had to win three of four to make the playoffs and we beat them twice. That was great. It gave us something to play for and something to prove.”
Potts is already looking forward to next year and the improvements that will show up. He’s confident that WW-P will come back stronger.
“I see us improving at the plate because my class has always been a hitting team,” Potts said. “And now that we will be upperclassmen, we will be a strong offensive team.”
WW-P showed flashes of potential this year, and they will return a more experienced team, along with a more experienced Schoenblum who worked well with DeLuca to get the Legion team up and running again.
“I think I kind of found myself and what kind of coach I wanted to be,” Schoenblum said. “I played for Michael Santoro in high school, and a lot of our people thought he was strict. He was a Steinert grad and played in college.
“Don Hutchinson, the South coach I played for in Legion, he’s more laid back, reserved and focuses on the baseball. Then I went to college and played for Yogi Lutz, and he’s like a drill sergeant. He’s very intense. I tried to take the best things from each of them that I believed would mold my style.”
“The whole purpose of the year was to try to compete and try to build a new brand of style of baseball, bring that competitive edge back,” Schoenblum said. “I don’t want people to think, ‘It’s West Windsor-Plainsboro, we’ll beat them.’ I want them to go in knowing it’ll be a tough game and we’re going to give it everything we’ve got.”