Whenever high school baseball is discussed around the state of New York, there are a few hotbeds that are generally the first to come up in the conversation. Prior to this season, the Lower Hudson Valley was rarely a part of the discussion.
Traditionally, the teams that emerge from Long Island are considered the front-runners for state titles. There is a notion of superiority that’s associated with our neighbors to the southeast. It often holds true in June, when the state championships are held.
We’ve seen other sections have their moments in recent years, too. The Genesee Valley (Section 5) has a history of success in the large school divisions while the Capitol District (Section 2) tends to field strong teams among the smaller classes.
The Lower Hudson Valley, known simply as Section 1 to local sports fans, has usually resided in the middle of the pack. There have been moments of glory — such as Mamaroneck’s back-to-back Class AA state titles in 2008-09, or Tuckahoe (2011) and Valhalla (2010) winning two straight for Section 1 in Class C — but the championships have been few and far between.
Entering the 2015 season, Tuckahoe’s state title in ’11 was the last state-wide victory that any local school could claim. The droughts in certain classes explain the poor standing of Section 1. From 1995-2014, only one Section 1 team won a title in Class A, Our Lady of Lourdes in 2006. And since Class B was established in 1985, only one local school has come out on top, Kennedy Catholic in 2008.
Section 1 began to build some momentum with a few state titles in the late 2000s, but the 2010s had not been prosperous for local teams. At least, until now.
That’s where Mamaroneck and Byram Hills come in, and the significance of what each team did in 2015 should not be taken lightly.
By winning state championships in New York’s two largest classes — Mamaroneck in AA and Byram in A — the perception of Section 1 around the state has been altered. For the time being, the Lower Hudson Valley is being talked about as an up-and-coming hub for baseball, no longer in the shadow of more accomplished sections. Tuesday’s New York State Sportswriters Association award announcements only provided further proof of that.
Mamaroneck senior Kumar Nambiar was named the New York State Sportswriters Association Class AA player of the year, with Byram Hills junior Frankie Vesuvio claiming the same honor in Class A. Both were selected as All-Americans — Nambiar by Louisville Slugger and Vesuvio by CBS Sports’ MaxPreps — and both have the tools to excel at the college level. Nambiar was chosen as the player of the year over Niskayuna’s Garrett Whitley, who was selected 13th overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in last month’s Major League Baseball Draft. Few would question which player has more talent, but it was Nambiar who led his team to the promised land.
To the victor goes the spoils.
Mamaroneck coach Mike Chiapparelli, who seems destined for a spot in the New York State Hall of Fame now that he’s won his third state title, and Byram coach Scott Saunders were each named coach of the year in their respective classes. A couple dozen more locals made the All-State lists, giving Section 1 an unmatched presence on the team.
As a member of the NYSSWA who gets to vote on the All-State teams every year, I didn’t have to do much convincing this time around. The other writers around the state recognized the progress of Section 1 and were inclined to give the local teams and players their due. And when college coaches and scouts decide where to devote their time in the state of New York in the coming years, they’ll probably give more consideration to visiting the Lower Hudson Valley.
It’s funny how that works. Beating your chest and telling everyone how good you are is one thing, but proving it on the field is the best way to back the doubters into a corner.
Respect must be earned, and the local baseball teams have done just that.