By Dylan Butler
There were still reminders of the horrifying attack six days earlier, when the Grover Cleveland baseball team ran for their lives from an alleged gang of gun-toting teens.
The most notable being the Mobile Command Center from the 104th Precinct’s taking up residence in the parking lot beyond center field as well as a sizable police presence, both in uniform and undercover.
But six days after many on the team had to scale a 20-foot fence for safety, dodging bullets and bottles from a gang that police said included 15-year-old Pedro Rodriguez, allegedly seeking retribution for an earlier fight with centerfielder Ricky Perez, the Grover Cleveland baseball team was back on its home field.
Back focused on baseball.
Back having fun.
“It feels great because after that happened we didn’t think we were going to come back on the field,” Perez said. “It feels great to do something you love.”
And although the Tigers rallied from a 3-0 deficit to defeat Queens West A rival Grand Street Campus, 4-3, this was one afternoon when the result meant very little.
“We’re winners just coming out here in uniform. No matter what happens in this game, we’re winners,” said Cleveland coach Jack Ciano. “I told them yesterday, ‘What pressure can you possibly have that can compare to last Thursday? What more pressure is there than running for your life?’”
Joining the police at the field May 7 was Grover Cleveland Principal Dominick Scarola, Athletic Director Dick Van Alten, Grand Street Campus Principal Jerry Cioffi and PSAL Baseball Commissioner Bob Pertsas, as well as a larger-than-usual group of parents.
But on this day there would be no ugly incidents, no gunshots at the field located at the corner of Dekalb and Seneca and just a few blocks from the Brooklyn border. The only sound emanating from the artificial turf was the ping of aluminum bats.
“To come back, get the win and put all that behind us is the best thing. That’s what we wanted to come out here and do,” said senior Mike Boothby. “Baseball’s one thing we love, and we wanted to come out here and do that. We didn’t want to end our season. To come out and get the win on our field feels even better.”
According to Perez, the close-knit group is even tighter after the attack, in which eight teenagers were arrested, including one affiliate of the Latin Kings gang.
“We’re a lot closer with the coach now, everyone’s a lot closer,” said Perez, who was the starting pitcher against Grand Street Campus. “We stood together when it happened.”
Added senior James DeBernardo: “We were always close, but after that, it was scary when they came on the field and they had those guns, but we’re closer now. We’re like a big family.”
Thanks to the beefed-up security in and around the field, Cleveland players, who voted 13-1 to continue the season two days earlier, were not concerned about any additional violence.
Their lone concern, at least for two hours, was a tough opponent in perennial powerhouse Grand Street Campus (12-7, 5-3 Queens West A).
After falling behind 3-0 in the third inning, Bobby Manzolillo belted a two-run single in the bottom of the third, and Eduardo Santiago tied the game at 3 with an RBI-single in the fourth inning.
Grover Cleveland (13-6, 6-2) went ahead for good in the bottom of the fifth when DeBernardo scored on a delayed double steal in the bottom of the fifth inning.
“We didn’t want to let anyone throw us off. We didn’t want that to be the last time we ever came here,” DeBernardo said. “We wanted to come back and finish the season strong and make the playoffs.”
Perez was solid, giving up three runs, two earned, on four hits while striking out six through four innings. A well-rested Boothby came in and got the win, striking out two in three innings of scoreless relief.
“I had no idea I was going to pitch today,” Boothby said. “It was ugly, but it got done.”
“I’m a big believer my whole life of taking a negative and trying to make it a positive,” Ciano added. “As much as we yell and we want to win, this is fun. In the scheme of things, it doesn’t matter.
“It’s such a happy ending to a bad story.”
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by email at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.