New Jersey Lit­tle Lea­guers proud to be ‘Troop­ers’

The Morning Call - - SPORTS - By Tyler King

SOUTH WILLIAMSPO­RT — Ray Amato takes in the scene from the very top of La­made Sta­dium as the sig­na­ture chant of the New Jersey Lit­tle League team echoes through the stands: “Let’s go Troop­ers! Let’s go Troop­ers!”

Amato smiles, but not be­cause New Jersey has the row­di­est fans around.

With each game they play at the Lit­tle League World Se­ries, the Elmora Youth League team from El­iz­a­beth, New Jersey, shares the mem­ory of Thomas Han­ratty, a state trooper struck by a pass­ing ve­hi­cle and killed while walk­ing to his car dur­ing a traf­fic stop in 1992.

Han­ratty played base­ball for Elmora, and ever since his death, the league has honored him by nick­nam­ing themselves “the Troop­ers” and wear­ing a patch with his badge num­ber, 4971, on their uni­forms.

Amato, a sergeant with the New Jersey state po­lice, grew up with the Han­ratty fam­ily and was in South Williamspo­rt on Sun­day as the New Jersey Lit­tle Lea­guers took on Hawaii.

“Tremen­dously honored and hum­bled by these kids,” Amato said. “They’re such great kids. They’re good sports­men and they carry on that tra­di­tion of the Elmora Youth League and more im­por­tantly, Tommy Han­ratty. It means every­thing.”

Be­fore the team’s first game of the tour­na­ment Fri­day, the play­ers were sur­prised by a few state po­lice troop­ers and about eight bus­loads of fans from El­iz­a­beth.

“Hon­estly, as a grown man, it was emo­tional,” New Jersey man­ager Jairo Labrador said. “Be­cause I know what it sig­ni­fies and what it means to us and our league and what it rep­re­sents.”

This team isn’t just carrying the weight of the New Jersey state po­lice on its shoul­ders, but also the city of El­iz­a­beth, only about 20 miles from Man­hat­tan.

“We’re a mix­ture of many eth­nic­i­ties and dif­fer­ent ar­eas,” Labrador said Fri­day. “A lot of us are Lati­nos and, and we party and we love and we hug and we kiss, and that’s what the crowd was. It was a big ol’ hug that we kept on get­ting the en­tire night.”

Dur­ing the team’s open­ing win over Ore­gon, the break­through mo­ment came in the top of the fifth in­ning, with New Jersey trail­ing 2-1.

The bases were loaded af­ter Yadi Ma­teo was in­ten­tion­ally walked. First base­man Jay­den Capindica promptly whacked the next pitch up the mid­dle for a base hit, driv­ing in two runs and giv­ing his team the lead for good.

“I think the whole sta­dium felt the energy be­cause the crowd just erupted,” Labrador said.

An er­rant throw home al­lowed Yadi to ad­vance to third and Jay­den to reach sec­ond. Once the play was over, they both turned to each other, put both arms up in the air and shook their hips in a dance move they call “the Jersey shuf­fle.”

“Danc­ing is a way to show the fans, ‘I love you,“’ Jay­den said af­ter the Troop­ers’ 6-2 win.

Af­ter losing 6-0 to Hawaii — the game was com­pleted Mon­day af­ter be­ing sus­pended be­cause of a thun­der­storm Sun­day — it’s win or go home for New Jersey. They play the New Eng­land rep­re­sen­ta­tive, Bar­ring­ton, Rhode Is­land, on Tues­day.

But no mat­ter how long this ride lasts, they’ll keep danc­ing as long as they can.

GENE J. PUSKAR/AP

El­iz­a­beth, New Jersey, Lit­tle League fans hold a ban­ner dur­ing a game at the Lit­tle League World Se­ries in South Williamspo­rt.

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