NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ — Members of the New Providence High School baseball program who were denied their chance to play the 2020 spring season due to the statewide coronavirus shutdown of schools may get their chance to play as a team in July.
The Last Dance Baseball Tournament would involve well over 200 teams--including New Providence--from all over New Jersey participating in a three-week competition that would begin with three days of pool play followed by two weeks' worth of bracket-style playoffs. Every team would be guaranteed at least three games during the pool play portion, which would begin July 14.
New Providence had six senior baseball players who would get their opportunity to represent then Pioneers again on the field.
"The idea of the tournament is outstanding," New Providence varsity baseball coach Chris Brodeur said. "Each coach I have spoken with is about the same mindset. Let's give the senior class an opportunity to compete. Of course we hesitated a bit. This is a big step, understanding where we have been in the last several months. However, the tournament directors, and with guidance of the department of health, and the PAL, I feel strongly that this can happen, and happen safely. I must mention that it is the support of the PAL that makes this possible. They have given us tremendous backing and guidance."
As something that is taking place out of season, the tournament is not an NJSIAA event. It is being organized by Mike Murray Jr., the head baseball coach at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen, with help from Millburn coach Brian Chapman and an area baseball scout, J.T. Kroeger. It is considered a high school summer tournament, not a club tournament, and teams will play under National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rules.
According to a series of reopening directives from Governor Phil Murphy, baseball practices were allowed to begin on June 22, and games will be permitted beginning July 6. On June 22, the maximum size of outdoor gatherings was increased from 100 to 250 people, and that figure is slated to expand to 500 people by July 6.
No coaches affiliated with their spring high school programs will be allowed to work with their teams prior to July 13, according to the NJSIAA calendar of when spring ends and summer begins, and some head coaches will be turning the reins over to someone else unaffiliated with their high school programs to run the teams during the tournament.
"From the beginning, this has not ever been about me. This is about getting this year's senior class an opportunity to play as a group, and represent their town, like they have done for their entire careers. I am just so excited to see them play," Brodeur said. "I have spoken with most of the team and many of their parents. We discussed the situation a lot, and I even asked them to think about it on their own before we commit. The feedback I got was overwhelmingly positive. Not just from the seniors and their parents, but from underclassmen who want to support the seniors in the tournament. I am so thankful to have such selfless young men who are supportive of each other."
Although he'll probably be handing off the coaching responsibilities to former New Providence players Peter House and Matt Timpone, Brodeur still had some thoughts on each of the Class of 2020 Pioneer players who'll be back out there representing the community at least three more times if the tournament comes to fruition.
Aidan Donnelly: "Aidan would be returning to the baseball team for his second year on varsity. He was a strong contributor at first base to our sectional championship last year, and was looking to continue that this year. Aidan stands out as a leader and as a teammate who can be counted on."
Danny Farley: "Danny would have made his varsity debut this year, and would have been a strong contributor on the mound. Danny’s quiet demeanor hid his love of the game and his desire to be a great teammate. Danny stands out as a player who has a great attitude around the field. He is a true working man’s hero."
Matthew Magnani: "Matt would have played OF on the varsity for the first time this year. He is an engaging young man who was very well liked by his teammates. Matt is someone who grew a lot as a young man, and a player in four years. Matt stands out as someone the team gravitated to, he showed some great leadership qualities, and had a terrific attitude."
Jason Marcantuone: "Jason would have helped us as a shortstop and an outfielder this year. Jason is another player who displays what it means to be a great teammate. He would have gained confidence as the season went on, and become a solid contributor. Jason stands out as a player who is willing to do what it takes to get better, and is not afraid to work hard."
Nate Scott: "Nate would be returning as a three-year starter. He would have played 2B, and been our number one pitcher. Voted captain by the team last year, Nate embodies what it means to be a Pioneer baseball player. His love of the game is felt by everyone he comes in contact with. Nate stands out as both competitive, and fun-loving, he knows what it takes to win, as he has contributed to both our past two sectional championships."
Andrew Shen: "Andrew would be returning to the varsity on the mound this year, and playing third base. Andrew shows a strong competitive drive, and an analytical approach to the game. Andrew stands out for his interaction with teammates and coaches, as well as his unassuming demeanor."