Why Amateur Sports matter in small towns
(Facebook: New Providence Reds)
On Saturday, August 27, I was witness to an incredible baseball game. After nine innings, the score was tied at 0-0, and the heart of the New Providence Reds lineup was up to bat. While these players were feared hitters, the whole team had struggled against pitcher Mike Brizzolara of the North Jersey Yellow Jackets. Lead off hitter Billy Holden singled, and after short stop Matthew Nesto flew out, third baseman Tom Pavero singled and Holden scored from second on a pitcher’s error. Outfielder Nick Sommo followed with a double to bring in Pavero, and catcher Pat Rooney knocked in a hit to score Sommo. With a three run cushion, Reds pitcher Scott Horowitz would surrender a run before retiring the remaining hitters, and Horowitz celebrated with his teammates after an incredible ten inning, 133 pitch, 3-1 win. The scrappy, gritty squad had just beaten the number one ranked team in the Intermediate “Wood” League of the New Jersey Amateur Baseball League, to capture their third title in four years and first in this level of play. Players, fans, and family rushed the field to celebrate the achievement.
The New Providence Reds have existed in numerous forms since 2003, when manager Matt Sommo first started with the team. In 2004, they were the White House Reds and Sommo managed them to a Tommie Agee League Championship. In more recent years, Sommo was able to take the team to New Providence, NJ, a small town in Union County near Morristown, where Sommo grew up and lived. It was then that Sommo was able to recruit his younger brother Nick Sommo to the team, a promising pitcher and utility player who had just completed High School.
Nick and Matt brought in some of Nick’s high school teammates to play, including the great five tool third baseman Tom Pavero, defensive wizard Short Stop Matt Nesto, towering power hitter Joe Randazzo, and Ray Nesto. With the backbone of the team in place, Matt Sommo filled out the roster with players from colleges he coached and managed at. Outfielders Brett Revett, Billy Holden and Dave Derosa came from Raritan Valley College, while ace pitcher Scott Horowitz was a high school teammate of Billy’s and catcher Pat Rooney being Billy’s cousin. Matt Sommo credits the creation of the team with his college coaching experience, which has been a key component of his roster every year. The deep roster of college-aged players has propelled the team to three championships in four years.
“I was drawn to the team because I wanted to continue playing baseball after high school,” Nick Sommo told me. “My brother already coached the team so it was an easy decision. Truthfully it’s just a love for the game and competing.”
(Facebook: New Providence Reds)
The joy these players have for the game is undeniable, as every game they are cracking jokes with one another and their fans, a frenzied group of the Sommo brothers friends and family who have dubbed themselves “The Red Heads.” The fans travel to away games, do a Yankee Stadium-like “Roll call” for the players in the first inning, and banter, cheer, and jeer, but all while respecting the other team. “Knowing how the team responded (to our cheering) I felt it important to be out supporting them every weekend I could” said one Red Head, Ian Lanza. “Some people responded well to positive reinforcement, others preferred silence. Whatever the case we figured it out and this was confirmed afterwards by the players.” It’s true, every Reds players I talked to told me how special it was to have a group of fans who would always support the team. This author identifies as a Red Head himself.
“I consider the guys on this team not as teammates, but as friends,” said Nick Sommo. “The camaraderie of the group is something special.” But despite their successes on the field, its the off the field work that is perhaps most impressive. The team serves as community leaders to the tiny town of New Providence, appearing in numerous charity events such as The Bikers for Brooke event, which raises money every year in New Providence for Pediatric Cancers and other diseases. They have also appeared at local street fairs and NP PAL baseball tryouts, offering as positive role models for younger fans and baseball players.
Ultimately, it’s hard not to root for this group of smiling, joking young men, some in college and others with college long in the rear view mirror. Their success on the field is indisputable, a dynasty and three-time champ with lights out pitching, rock solid defense, and timely hitting. Off the field they are friendly, and welcoming to any fan, and community ambassadors happy to help a small town. We know they’ll be successful on and off the field for years to come.
R-E-D-S! REDS REDS REDS!
The New Providence Reds are sponsored by Orangetheory Fitness and Sports Clips of New Providence and currently play in the Intermediate League of the New Jersey Amateur Baseball League. They are managed by Matt Sommo and Sal Nesto.
To learn more about the Reds please visit them at https://www.facebook.com/NewProvReds/ and http://www.newjerseyabl.com/page/show/1089076-new-providence-reds.