New Jersey wins it 'for Ralphy' as it carries memory of beloved uncle, mentor through tournament

Published on Sunday, 11 August 2019 17:36
Written by ZACK CARPENTER

@ZACKCARPENTERBP

BRISTOL - Jairo Labrador’s eyes brightened the moment he brought up Elizabeth, N.J., a city he says is a special, hard-working community.

Labrador, the manager of Elizabeth’s Elmora Youth Little League baseball team, displayed his immense pride when describing the city and the team as a melting pot of tough, gritty boys that represent the city so well. 

“Our community is so special,” Labrador said. “We’re all immigrants and hard-working people. [Some of our parents are] first- and second-generation immigrants. And, man, it’s amazing. I love it.”

And there was no better man to represent Elizabeth than Ralphy Amado, the uncle of Elmora standout third baseman Derek Escobar. 

Amado was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma this summer and died on June 28, leaving behind a large array of grieving Elizabeth residents who adored the beloved Amado. 

Amado was heavily involved in the community as a baseball lover and coach. Several fans at Breen Field this weekend spoke highly of Amado, glowing about the impact he made as a selfless, loyal person who mentored many young ball players in the New Jersey community. 

“He was so instrumental to our team,” Labrador said. “He was always at games, at practice, donated to the boys, he did fund-raising, owned a restaurant the boys would come to and eat after the games. He was just an amazing guy, and all the boys loved him. Every single kid on that team knows Ralphy, and he was a special part of all our families in the Elmora baseball family.”

Just one day after Amado’s death, Escobar was slated to pitch in one of the team’s district tournament games. The coaching staff asked if Escobar if he felt good enough to pitch, and he did so with his uncle’s memory behind him. 

“There’s not a more kind-hearted person or a better person [than Amado],” said Escobar, sporting a badge on his chest with a photo of Amado on it. “He touched us. He was very close with a lot of us, and he touched every single one of us. Me and Jayden [Capindica], especially, we’ve known him for a long, long time. He was an uncle to all of us. He found out he passed away, and we were all bawling in tears. We couldn’t believe it happened to one of our favorite people.”

That day, and every day since, Elmora’s mantra has been “For Ralphy,” and many of the fans and players say that Amado is their “Angel in the Outfield” watching over them. 

If Amado is watching, he certainly has a smile on his face after the program he used to help run has reached the biggest stage of the season. 

Elmora advanced to the Little League World Series behind a 19-4 victory over New York on Saturday night. The win capped a fabulous 5-1 record at the Mid-Atlantic Regional, and afterward, Labrador and many of the players had tears streaming down their faces, emotions coming out in remembrance of Amado. 

“We were riding that angel on our shoulder,” Labrador said of Amado, whose hard-fighting spirit lived on in this Elmora team, one that should have been exhausted at the end of its run in the regional. But it wasn’t. 

Not after playing more games than any other team in the field (six). Not after a crushing, devastating 8-7 opening-game loss on a walk-off three-run home run. And not after expending energy in an emotional revenge game against the same Washington D.C. team handed it that heartbreaking defeat. 

“This team is built on love and family,” assistant coach Sal Garcia said. “When we took that loss, we left. I don’t know if people know that. We left. We went to the hotel with our families, and we catered them all. We sat down with everybody and soaked in the loss with our families. Since then, we bonded even more. 

“I think the loss was the best thing that happened to us. It brought us back to our families. It brought us all closer together.”

This team, though, was already close, the coaches say. That stems all the way back to when they were 7 years old, when the coaching staff was ridiculed for gathering this group of boys to form a 7U travel baseball team. 

“The best part is everyone looked at us like we were nuts,” assistant coach Louis Aponte said. “They said, ‘You can’t put these kids in travel baseball at 7 years old.’ And here we are.”

That’s the bravado and spirit Elmora will be taking with it to Williamsport, Pa., Aug. 15-25, in a quest to capture a World Series championship. 

Title or not, the team will be playing in honor of New Jersey state trooper Thomas Hanratty, a lifelong Elizabeth resident and Elmora Youth League alum who was killed in the line of duty in 1992. 

“Sometimes tragic moments, like a loss of a family member or the loss we experienced here to D.C., it brings a group together,” Labrador said. “We respect and honor the memory of Ralphy and Trooper Hanratty. We take great pride in that. 

“We just come together so strongly as a community, and we’re so proud to call ourselves troopers. That really means something. We don’t stop fighting.”

Zack Carpenter can be reached at (860) 973-1811 or zcarpenter@bristolpress.com



Posted in New Britain Herald, General Sports on Sunday, 11 August 2019 17:36. Updated: Sunday, 11 August 2019 17:38.