NORWOOD — Joe Curran and his wife Betty were fixtures, in attendance for every home game for the Norwood American Legion baseball team since 1992. And if Post 70 was on a roll, the pair often traveled with the squad.
The two always brought their own chairs and set up camp at the top of a hill near the entrance to Peter Wall Field at the Balch Elementary School.
Joe Curran, a former advertising executive at the Boston Herald, died May 5 at age 83, and for the entire Post 70 program, his loss was a hard hit. And throughout a 13-11 regular season, his presence was missed.
Before Norwood hosted Walpole’s American Legion Post 104 team in the first game of the Final Eight Intrastate Championship tournament last weekend, two red seats from Fenway Park were unveiled and dedicated to the Currans at the top of the hill.
Betty Curran sat in her seat, which bears No. 9 in honor of her favorite player, Ted Williams. She undid a velvet rope and took her place near a plaque that reads “reserved for Norwood’s greatest fans,” while members of the team saluted her and her husband by raising their caps in unison.
She then watched Norwood topple Walpole, 9-6, last Saturday after losing two of their three previous matchups this season. A day later, she watched Post 70 defeat Newburyport’s Post 150, 6-2, to jump out to a 2-0 record. But she missed Monday’s game against eventual champion Milford Legion Post 59; she was supporting her grandson, Matthew Cunningham, who was attempting to earn PGA certification in Reading.
On Tuesday, she was back supporting Norwood in its semifinal game against Lowell’s Post 87.
“The past couple of games that Norwood won, I always felt that was Joe’s magic,” Curran said. “And to think they got this far, but yesterday my grandson qualified and that’s where Joe was, he wasn’t here. I said I’m coming today and he is too, with that magic dust.”
While Post 70 was eliminated from the tournament with a 14-9 loss to Lowell, coach Paul Samargedlis said that community and commitment were the brightest spots to take out of the season.
He said that when his team struggled during the regular season, things snowballed, and they made sure their struggles were “not in doubt.”
With an injury to outfielder Vincent Tarara, heading into his senior year at Norwood High, plus the departure of another starter, the roster was down to 12 players.
Jake O’Rourke, a rising junior at Norwood, was called up from the junior program, along with pitchers Denis Drummey and Chris King.
The center fielder, whose uncle, Dan , was a three-time state champion for Post 70 (1985-87), responded well while hitting fifth in the lineup after becoming a mainstay at the season’s midpoint.
He batted .350 with two home runs through 16 games. O’Rourke also had power numbers in the first half of the year, totaling four home runs with the junior club.
“It makes you feel good when you come up from a lower league like that,” O’Rourke said. “It’s actually a big jump, bigger than you would think, so to do well on a field like this makes you want to do more. It makes you want to succeed.”
Recent Norwood graduate Anthony Pereillo said that O’Rourke is living the dream on the big club, and his “calm intensity” sparked unity on the team when the club was shorthanded.
“There were some other kids on the team who weren’t as dedicated as they probably should’ve been,” Pereillo said. “But that’s OK, it’s just more motivation for us and another reason to show we still have that talent to push us through the playoffs.”
Jim Delbou, a former Post 70 coach who was on the 1987 squad that advanced to the American Legion World Series, said that before the tournament began, he saw a look in the eyes of the players that he hadn’t seen since his days with the team.
Delbou took a 7 a.m. train from Franklin to watch his former team on Tuesday, and said he sees parallels to his state championship team. He said as an alumnus, it’s his job to support the program.
He remembered a Northeast Regional victory parade set up by “Mr. Norwood, Joe Curran,” that started after the team’s bus got to town.
“All those people that were waiting for us to come off the bus,” Delbou said. “If I could bottle that up and sell it, I’d be a millionaire. I remember being here in the parking lot by myself, just sitting in my car looking at the field and asking myself, how did this happen?”
Samargedlis said the present-day version of the team has a similar feeling after pioneering success in a tournament they wouldn’t have qualified for had they not earned an automatic bid as the host.
Late-inning loss ends Braintree’s season
In the top of the eighth inning of a 1-1 game against Milford’s American Legion Post 59 in the semifinals of the intrastate tournament, Braintree Post 86 pulled starter Bob McNiff after he had tossed 7⅓ innings of one-run ball, striking out five with no walks on a season-high 92 pitches.
Milford then plated the go-ahead run, along with an insurance tally, against reliever Matthew Bickford for a 3-1 eight-inning win that ended Brain-tree’s season at 21-7 overall.
Coach Jim Joyce said his young team played for each other. “We needed to fill some pieces with younger guys,’’ he said, “I thought we would make the tournament, but I never thought we would be 19-5’’ at the end of the regular season.
“You could see our chemistry build throughout, and I think that was our focal point.”
Wiseman helps lift Cape League squad
Rising Vanderbilt sophomore outfielder Rhett Wiseman of Mansfield went 2 for 5 with a home run and an RBI in the Cotuit Kettleers’ 5-4 walkoff win against the Falmouth Commodores on Wednesday.
His solo shot as the first batter in the bottom of the sixth inning sparked a three-run outburst and helped force a rubber match in the postseason best-of-three series, tied at one game apiece in the first round of the Eastern Division playoffs.
In 41 regular-season games in the Cape Cod League, the Buckingham, Browne & Nichols grad batted .294 with 40 hits, 25 RBIs and four homers.
Coach Mike Roberts said the first-year player has performed well this summer, likely due to his experience at Vanderbilt.
“Rhett has always been a tremendous natural athlete,” he said. “But he’s beginning to make the transition from an athlete in a baseball uniform to a good baseball player.”
Quincy youth team goes 3-2 at regionals
The Quincy 14U youth baseball team finished 3-2 at the Eastern Regional tournament in Freehold, N.J. They lost, 6-2, to Massapequa, N.Y., and 3-2 to Manchester, N.J.
Coach Mark Jaehnig guided Quincy (10-0) to the Junior League Massachusetts Championship last month, earning a berth in the double-elimination regionals.
Pitcher Mark Monahan kicked off Quincy’s success with 6⅔ innings of work in a 6-2 win over host Freehold.
Dara Griffin, a 13-year-old, was 2 for 3 with two walks through four games. Jaehnig said Griffin has been especially impressive since he was usually a pinch hitter, and batted ninth in his first start of the tournament. Chris Wallace, a freshman catcher, had two doubles in the finale.Peter Cappiello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @petecapps.