Author Remembers Ardsley Baseball’s Four Straight State Titles
When Ardsley Baseball Ruled New York State from 1986–1989
The Yankees did it twice. So did the Montreal Canadians. The Islanders may have the most impressive string of Championships by winning 19 straight playoff series. But right here in Westchester, Ardsley has a place among the immortals. From 1986 through 1989, Ardsley won four straight Class C Baseball State Championships, and their run may even surpass the do-or-die streaks that came before them.
In accomplishing the feat, Ardsley won 43 consecutive elimination games, according to Bruce Fabricant. To mark the era, Fabricant recently self-published Ardsley’s Dynasty, 1986–1989: When the Village’s High School Ruled New York State Baseball.
Settling in Ardsley as an adult, Fabricant was well aware of the run. “I had two daughters—both in high school at the time,” he said. “In fact, my oldest graduated in 1988. So many of her friends were the boys on the team, and the shortstop Jeff Caldara was in her wedding party.
The Fundamentals and a Foundation Beginning with Little League
But the foundation was built long before the varsity laced up the 1986 season, according to Ardsley Coach Neil Fitzpatrick. “It was simply summer baseball for youngsters and teenage boys,” Fabricant wrote in Chapter one.
An Ardsley two time champ detailed the specifics. “We had really quality coaches in Little League who taught us the fundamentals of the game. They were hard on us. We practiced hard. We played hard,” said CJ Russo. “It just kind of progressed, and JV was just a portion of the progress. And then we got to Fitz. It was a whole other level, but we were prepared to work and play hard.”
The sheer number of blowouts inflicted are staggering, while the chemistry was set in place. But despite the importance of the past, their coach refused to let his players live in it. “Fitz would not let the teams focus on what they did the previous year,” said Fabricant.
Of course, game to game and inning to inning had the same application and never was a t-shirt distributed that recognized the state titles. The fundamentals took precedence and detail adhered to the finest intricacies. For example, said Fabricant, “Fitz wouldn’t let his players wear their hats backward during practice, because you’d see the ball differently when it came off the bat during games.”
The mindset extended to all aspects of the game too. “What you do in practice you do in the game. So their practices were tougher than the games,” said Fabricant.
On the other hand, Fitz found a crucial component to ease the reins. Once locating a player’s strength in the batting cage, Fitz pitched to the strength in spades. “I wanted my players to have a field day with my meatball fastball. The whole idea was to give them confidence,” Fitz remembered.
And he threw a lot of it. “He had a rubber arm, and he would do it incessantly,” said Fabricant.
A heartbreaking loss paves the way.
So all the tools laid out, the Dynasty’s real beginning took shape because the players deferred on one aspect of Fitz’s philosophy. In the 1985 regional finals, a 6–2 lead in the seventh still had Ardsley falling fell 8-7 to Marlboro High.
Billy Bakker remembered what the moment came to mean. “The 85 team was better than the 86 team. I believe we had to lose that season to win the state championship in 1986. Our title was one of the contributing factors for the other three titles. It was something that was part of the Ardsley mystique.”
Either way, Ardsley had a mantra that persisted: “All 21 outs.”
So Many Dramatic Moments
And in 1986, George Philips had no problem losing count in incurring his share. “He threw 32 of the teams 57 post season innings,” revealed Fabricant.
So pitch counts had not yet arrived, and the 10 homers and 44 RBIs proved the pitcher could hit too. But Ardsley almost was a one hit wonder.
In the 1987 regional finals, Ardsley stood tied, and Valley Stream North had runners on second and third with none out in the bottom of the seventh. “Ardsley’s bus driver probably had his keys in the ignition,” wrote the author.
The standard intentional walk did not follow, though. Fitz worried that a walk off walk might follow, but kept his kids in the moment. “We’ll find a way,” Fabricant conveyed the mound visit.
Ardsley did just that. A ground ball to third had Ray DiMartino holding the runner, but his release sent the potential winning run to the plate. First baseman Brian Lepore fired a strike home, and got the out by an inch, according to the umpire. The runner at second, possibly getting ready to celebrate, broke late and was gunned down by catcher Matt Arone.
“I knew at that point, the game was over,” said DiMartino.
Four runs in the top of the ninth, and Ardsley delivered on DiMartino's insight. At the same time, Fitz had no illusions about how important the moment was. “If we don’t win the state championship the second year, I seriously doubt we would ever have gone back to Little Falls,” said Fitz.
The Human Side of the Dynasty
But the stories inside the lines are just as important as the ones outside for the author. The lifelong friendships are pervasive, but Fabricant’s favorite probably involves the aftermath of Jeff Caldara’s walk off home run in the section finals. His father rushed out of the stands, and could not hold back. “You’re awesome, I love you,” Fabricant relayed the memory
The senior Caldara not overly affectionate, Caldara remembered he didn’t hear that kind of thing until the day his father died. “It showed humanity and touched me very much,” said Fabricant…
Turning the pages, so to will this book.
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The book can be purchased on Amazon.