CHATHAM, NJ - Spectators packed the bleachers at Shepard Kollock Field on Sunday evening for the final matchup in the three-game championship series of Chatham Recreation Men’s Modified Pitch Softball League, also known as The Bull-Lehman League.
While scores of children cheered from the sidelines and atop the jungle gym, members of the Wine Traders (the future name of their sponsor who is currently known as BuyRite Wine and Liquor) and the Chatham Eskies traded the lead back and forth making for a whole lot of nail-biting from both sides of the diamond. Eventually, the Wine Traders came out as the victors, 8-7 in extra innings, to claim the championship.
The pundits had correctly anticipated an epic battle that would come down to the wire. Both teams had
finished the regular season at 8-3, in a three-way tie for first place with Charley’s Aunt, last year’s
champs who were unceremoniously knocked out of the playoffs after the Eskies swept them in two
straight games. The Wine Traders beat Towne Tavern, a perennial powerhouse, in a tight three-game
series to advance to the finals.
The Wine Traders jumped out to an early Game Three lead, ignited by a Tom Penn bomb over the right-
center fielder’s head which landed Penn on third base. The Wine Traders soon advanced two across the
plate, followed by another two runs with a Brady Schuck two-out single. But the Eskies, supported by strong hitting and the experienced pitching of Charlie Lehman, weren’t going to give up without a fight. They fought back to make it 4-4, forcing the Wine Traders to send in their ace right-hander, Jason Shaw.
In the bottom of the third inning, it looked like the game might continue into the fourth all tied up after
the Eskies outfield nailed a Wine Traders baserunner attempting to tag up from third. But Dan Orefice,
who started the play on second base, not only tagged up and advanced to third base, but then seized an
opportunity by nearly “stealing” home as the Eskies celebrated the initial out and left home plate
The game went into the fourth inning with the Wine Traders having a slight edge, 5-4.
The fifth inning brought in one more run for the Wine Traders as Mike Bruno doubled to rightfield,
scoring Phil Didio.
As to be expected, the Eskies battled back once again, this time scoring three runs in the top of the 6th to
take the lead, 7-6, and nearly the championship. The Wine Traders managed to tie the game at 7-7 in the bottom of the sixth inning when John Veltri smashed a clutch, two-out single over the first baseman’s glove, allowing Pete Bruzzo to score the tying run.
Both teams went without scoring in the seventh and the Eskies couldn’t put up any runs in the first-half
of the eighth inning. In the bottom of eighth, the Eskies walked Mike Bruno to first base with one out. Bruno advanced to second on a groundout.
With two outs and a man in scoring position, Jeff Garlewicz stepped up to the plate with the Eskies opting to play four deep in the outfield, rather than putting a rover in short leftfield. With laser focus, Garlewicz smacked a single in the hole between the Eskies’ third-baseman and shortstop providing the Wine Traders with an opportunity to take the lead, and the title. As Bruno rounded third-base, the crowd held its collective breath. In his trademark fashion, Bruno slid headfirst across home plate narrowly beating the throw from the Eskies’ leftfielder. With the umpire’s cry of “Safe!” the crowd erupted and the Wine Traders stormed the field to celebrate their victory.
This was the Wine Traders second championship since they entered The Bull-Lehman League in 2012 as
an expansion team. The Wine Traders won the 2013 title while playing under the name of their original
sponsor, the Bramnick Law Firm. The team subsequently played under another team name, until being
sponsored by Wine Traders for the first time this year.
Brady Shuck took over the coaching role this year after several dedicated seasons under former coach and team founder, Phil Didio. Founded in 1969, there are now more than 150 Chatham residents playing softball in the The Bull- Lehman League. Interested players should email Carol Nauta at email@example.com for more information.