By Joseph Staszewski
Hurricane Sandy delivered the worst to the Rockaways but brought out the best in Kely Aponte and his Beach Channel baseball teammates.
More than a year after the superstorm slammed the peninsula, leaving many of the players without homes and displaced from their school, the No. 10-seeded Dolphins reached their first baseball championship game since 2004 and will take on No. 5 Bronx Science at Yankee Stadium June 12.
The events leading up to this run brought the team’s 12 players closer together.
“This is a very tight-knit group,” fourth-year Beach Channel Coach John Mangieri said. “All of the families know each other. This year they are more settled in. They are back in their homes so it’s just been a great time for all these boys.”
But it wasn’t always that way. Aponte, a team captain and ace on the mound, saw both his parents out of work at the Madelaine Chocolate Factory for a month and a half after Sandy and dealt with the electricity and water outages for weeks in the family’s Far Rockaway apartment complex.
On top of that, Aponte’s school inside Beach Channel/Channel View was temporarily placed in Maspeth High School and not Franklin K. Lane, where most of his other teammates were sent. They kept in touch and scheduled hitting sessions at batting cages to help take their minds off what was going on.
“We were trying to stay as close as possible and forget about what happened,” Aponte said.
Since then, he has emerged as one of the team’s biggest leaders. He returned more confident in himself and his skills, after being on Mangieri’s Storm Baseball Academy travel team with Long Island kids from the likes of Chaminade and Holy Trinity, among others. Aponte wanted to impart what he learned to his teammates at Beach Channel (16-2).
“This year he has taken the team on his back and really been a true leader,” said Mangieri, who played minor league baseball and was on Archbishop Molloy’s team. “He’s everything any coach could ask for and a very, very modest kid.”
Aponte is a humble kid sporting impressive numbers. A pitcher and shortstop, he batted .465 during the regular season. This year on the mound his record is 9-0 with a 0.88 ERA and 82 strikeouts.
And he now has three playoff wins under his belt — Beach Channel had none in his first three seasons, with Aponte taking the loss each time. Aponte said he promised Mangieri when the year started that he’d get the Dolphins to the title game.
“Here we are in the championship,” Aponte said.
He’s had plenty of help from a roster that has nine freshmen and sophomores. Catcher Joe Calandra and third baseman Ryan Suglia were key cogs in the Beach Channel offense. Marvin Hernandez was a steady force on the mound. Shortstop Sergio Galdamez and centerfielder Antonio Moccia also contributed.
“These kids are just fearless,” Mangieri said. “They have a lot of heart.”
He and his players have produced one of the best seasons in program history a year and a half after their community was ravaged by flood waters. That in itself is worth as much as a title.
“These kids are going to have lifelong memories whether we win or we lose,” Mangieri said. “They are going to remember this forever.”