Flemington Orioles 2004 Awards Dinner
The Flemington Orioles 2004 Awards Dinner was bittersweet in many ways. As usual, the team recognized outstanding performances from the past season, but it also saw an unanticipated passing of the torch. Where 2004 pointed to a regular season of disappointment and unfulfilled expectations, the tournament season that followed produced a championship more in keeping with the talent and tradition that have always defined the Flemington Orioles Baseball Club.
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The season that began impressively in April with victories over perennial playoff teams in the Central Jersey Men’s Senior Baseball League (CJ-MSBL) ended meekly with a first-round loss in August to the last-place team in the league. And, not to be forgotten, a season that started under a pall of one family’s tragedy ended in personal triumph, the likes of which make for sports stories of enduring inspiration.
Dan Pace, Pitching Award winner
Player awards went to Dan Pace, Mike Venezia, and Bob White. Pace, an all-around performer for Flemington as shortstop, pitcher, and hitter since he joined the team three years ago won the Pitching Award for 2004, posting 2 victories and 32 strike outs, to go with a team leading 3.53 ERA. He also handled the bat well in the all-wood MSBL, as his .286 batting average and .395 on-base percentage attest.
2004 Hitting Leader,
On a team accustomed to a lineup of .400-plus hitters, Mike Venezia’s lone .400 batting average in 2004 loomed indeed large. That he was the only Orioles player to reach that plateau was not nearly as impressive as the fact that he accomplished the feat in a wood bat league. Along with his team leading 18 hits, 11 RBI, 10 runs, and .566 on-base percentage, Mike set the standard in five offensive categories. In addition, his three strike outs all season tied him for second place with three of his teammates, and his 8 walks placed him second on the team behind only Scott Bills’ team leading 10 free passes. To no one’s surprise, the sum total of Mike’s offensive production earned him the team Hitting Award for 2004.
The most prestigious and inspiring award of the evening went unquestionably, though, to Bob White. Playing in his eleventh year with the team, Bob sustained a crushing family loss prior to the 2004 campaign and suffered through a .111 start during the first half of the season. In what can only be described as
an amazing turnaround, he finished his last nine games 11-21 (.524) at the plate, with an eye-popping 13-22 (.591) on-base performance during that stretch run. He finished the season at .333-.400 (See HCB, Fall 2004, page 15.)
Bob White, Comeback Player
of the Year for 2004
For his determination and courage, Bob received a much-deserved Comeback Player-of-the-Year Award for 2004.
Chris Gacos, owner of
Sponsor of the Year
Team loyalty represents the most important aspect of any successful organization. Just ask Chris Gacos, owner of Sneakers Plus in Flemington. Twenty-five years’ experience of being the best at his craft has cemented that basic business belief for him. Through the nine years of his unflagging support for the Flemington Orioles, his management example has inspired the growth of Hunterdon County Baseball, from its humble beginning as a ad-book in 1996, to a team yearbook, and now a county-wide baseball magazine. (See HCB, Spring 2004, pages 8-9.)
Over his career, Chris has received countless accolades for his sponsorship of and contribution to youth leagues throughout the county. In 2001 and 2002 he received recognition from his colleagues in business as Flemington-Raritan Business Leader of the Year and then as Flemington Elks Lodge Citizen of the Year, respectively. His choice as the Flemington Orioles-HCB Sponsor of the Year for 2004 proved as logical as it was long overdue.
Changing of the Guard
Typically, when a championship team begins to lose its edge and falls in the league standings, the first person singled out for scrutiny is its Field Manager. At those times, changes inevitably take place, hopefully to the benefit of the team.
The Orioles’ lackluster performance in 2004 – a 9-12 won-lost record in the wood bat MSBL – capped a three-year fall from dominance for the team. Following the 2001 season, when the Os captured a Central Division championship in the U.S. Over-Thirty Baseball League (USOTBL) with a 17-10 record, the team slipped to 12-7 in 2002 prior to having two losing seasons in a row.
Contrasted with and simultaneous to this turn of events, a core group of Orioles players had traveled to Florida each November from 2002 through 2004, compiling a progressively better record each year in the annual MSBL National Tournament. None other than Scott Bills, the Flemington Orioles’ team captain since the end of the 2001 season, served as manager for the tournament team, known as the New Jersey Reds.
The tournament team adopted the name used by the USOTBL Over-40 team of the same name, because the team roster consisted of 40-and-over players recruited largely from that group. Two years after compiling a 1-4 record in the 2002 MSBL national competition, the Reds’ initial entry in that week-long event, the team swept the field in 2004 to win the tournament.
With Scott Bills at the helm, the ’04 Reds finished 8-0-1 in the 2004 MSBL Fall Classic, capturing their first national, 38-and-Over Central Division Championship.
Over the same three-year period, the Flemington Orioles and the New Jersey Reds have clearly gone in opposite directions. Given this fact, it also became clear to Os’ manager, Joe Nardini, that his team required a change in field leadership, if it were to reverse course from recent seasons of mediocre play. As Joe puts it, “After rebuilding the team from scratch in the mid-90s, financing it through the publication of annual ad-books and yearbooks, guiding it to two tournament championships in 1999 and 2001, and spending eleven years as field manager, it’s time to pass the baton to someone else with a different philosophy, and who happens to be riding an impressive winning streak.
“Frankly, it’s only what you’d expect to see,” says Joe. “How often do we hear of the General Manager calling a meeting with the Field Manager to announce that a change has to be made in order for the team to play better? In this case, I simply called myself into my office and made the change that had to be made!”
As he has with Andy Vazquez of the Reds, Scott Bills will share responsibility for running the Orioles on game day with Ron Pasko. Both Andy and Ron are long-time teammates of Scott’s on those respective squads; and, together with Scott, both provide their teams with winning combinations. Joe will remain in charge of the team financing and continue to handle a variety of administrative duties, “moving up to the front office,” as he prefers to describe it.
Naturally, HCB wishes Scott and the Battlin' Birds only the best of luck in their efforts to return to familiar winning ways in 2005.