The moment ABC broadcaster Brent Musburger exclaimed that the 1998 Toms River (N.J.) East American Little League were World Series champions, the lives of a group of kids and coaches from the Jersey shore changed forever.
“It was really an amazing achievement. One that not many kids get to say they did, let alone win the whole thing,” said Tom Gannon, Toms River left fielder, who is now a Police Officer for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “As a team, we had no intentions of getting that far. But we had great coaching, we meshed well as a team, and we gained more confidence as each round went on.”
The team became instant celebrities. They were on the field at Yankee Stadium. Chris Cardone, who went 2-for-2 in the Championship Game, was a guest on the Late Show with David Letterman.
“I am extremely grateful for the opportunities that championship has provided me. Not only in the opportunities to gain some once-in-a-lifetime experiences like visiting the White House, taking the field with the New York Yankees (some of us for the first and only time), and doing a late-night television show, which I was not usually allowed to stay up to watch; but in the lessons that I was able to learn at such a young age,” said Mr. Cardone, who is now a Mechanical Engineer with the US Navy, Department of Defense. “I learned to try to slow down and appreciate the daily blessings, as well as to not take myself too seriously. When you have an opportunity like that at such a young age, you are forced to learn how to move on and not rest on past accomplishments.”
The white, toy gorilla they kept in their dugout became their calling card, leading to their nickname, “The Beast of the East.” And, the winning pitcher from that Championship Game, Todd Frazier, became, perhaps, the most recognizable person from the Jersey Shore outside of Bruce Springsteen.
“It was a fun time. I had a blast. It was a time in my life that I’ll never forget,” said Mr. Frazier, who has gone on to a successful MLB career, currently playing third base for the New York Mets. “I remember trading pins, sliding down the hill on cardboard, and meeting all the other kids from all over the world which was really cool and probably the highlight. It was just a tremendous two weeks. We had a great time on and off the field.”
As the Toms River team celebrates the 20th Anniversary of their World Series Championship, the team will reunite at Howard J. Lamade Stadium on Sunday, August 19. Not only will they get to relive their glory days, but they’ll get to see their former teammate, Mr. Frazier and his New York Mets take on the Philadelphia Phillies in the second MLB Little League Classic, presented by GEICO.
“I can’t wait (to be back),” said Mr. Frazier, who will also be greeting the winners of the 2018 Canon Little League Photo Contest in Williamsport that day. “I’m going to bring my two trading books full of pins from back in the day to trade with the kids. I’m going to watch the games going on. It’s going to be an unbelievable experience.”
“We are all so busy now and it will be nice to take a couple of days to stop and remember all of the fun we had playing together,” said Gabriel Gardner, third baseman, now a Sales Manager for a Denver-area convenience store company. “The team has always meant a lot to me. We shared a life experience that few in this world will ever have a chance to understand.”