Fifty years ago this month, a group of teenage boys from Ewing Township accomplished a feat that has remained unmatched in township athletic history. Against all odds, the township’s team won the Babe Ruth League’s 1970 World Series.
Only two other New Jersey teams have won the BRL championship—Trenton and Cherry Hill.
The Ewing team arrived in Brawley, California, as a significant underdog—facing teams from around the country that came from much larger programs.
In its first game, the Ewing team defeated Brawley earning the ire of the home team’s fans for the rest of the tournament.
After that, fans showed up to the field armed with signs against Ewing and to actively root against them.
The players on the team were Mark Bombara, Salvatore Cacciabaudo, Michael Cammarata, Frank Cipullo, Alfred DeBlasio, Gerald Festa, Gerard Goeke, Donald Henley, Ronald Henley, Sam Holzhammer, Wayne Krenchicki, Frank Krezniacki, Steven Pageau, Gregory Rafalski and Fred Sickles, who was named MVP.
The team’s manager was Joe Sgro and the coaches were Reginald Bentivogli, Carl Gray and Bob Dorio.
On the road to the championship, Ewing went 5-0 in the Middle Atlantic Conference playoffs, often dominating the competition.
In the World Series, the team went 7-1, losing only its third game against Mount Healthy, Ohio, 6-4. Ewing won games against: Brawley, California, 5-0; Honolulu, Hawaii, 2-0; Nashville, Tennessee, 4-1; Darien, Connecticut, 3-2; and Pine Bluff, Arkansas, 4-2.
In the finals, Ewing had its revenge, beating Mount Healthy, 1-0 and 7-2 in one night to claim the championship.
Ewing had to beat Mount Healthy twice because of its earlier loss in the tournament.
In winning, Ewing set a record that it shares to this day with several other teams for most games won and most consecutive games won.
Ted Forst, Ewing director of community affairs, said the township is currently working to commemorate the team’s golden anniversary this year.
Part of that involves setting up a display of memorabilia from the 1970 season at the township municipal building or the Ewing Senior and Community Center. The plan has been temporarily delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Forst said.
The township has a number of items for the display and will be adding item’s donated by Holzhammer, who has a huge cache of memorabilia from the team.
In order to recognize the team, Ewing Observer editor Bill Sanervino talked to Holzhammer about the championship season. An edited version of that interview appears below.
* * *
Ewing Observer: Tell me a little bit about your team and the path to the championship?
Sam Holzhammer: When we were 12 years old, in Ewing Township there was an American League and the National League in Little League. We both made it to the district finals and my team, the National Team, won.
Both teams were combined when we went to Babe Ruth. The funny thing is that we only had eight teams in our league. We played at Fisher Field, and that was the only field we played at.
We hosted the regionals in Babe Ruth, and we swept the regionals. We didn’t lose a game. After that we went to the World Series in Brawley, California.
EO: What happened once you got there?
SH: I’m going to tell you an incident that kind of spurred us on.
First off, the reason why we were good is because at every position, we didn’t have anybody that had to leave the position to play another position, because they were all good.
We all had it all. It’s the way to planets aligned. I was the best first baseman, Mike Cammarata was the best second baseman, Wayne was the best shortstop, and so on.
We didn’t have to move anybody. We had two great coaches in Joe Sgro and Reggie Bentivogli, and they worked hard. They really did. And me, I was in the best shape of my life.
When we got to the World Series, we had to play the host team, which was Brawley. They picked us because we looked like the weakest team.
There were teams from Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Honolulu, Hawaii, and Mount Healthy, Ohio, which is a suburb of Cincinnati. And then there was Ewing, who no one ever heard of. They (Brawley) said, “Well, we’ll play them first.”
You know what happened? We beat them 5-0. I mean, we smoked ’em.
From then on we were hated because we beat the hell out of the home team.
After that, we were at this banquet. Me and Wayne were sitting together and we were sitting behind the Mount Healthy team. One of the kids leaned over and asked me, “Where are you guys from?”
We go, “We’re a suburb of Trenton, New Jersey.” Then he asks, “How many teams are in your league?” I go, “Eight.”
And this kid goes, “Eight? No, not in your division, in your league.” I said “Eight.”
He looked at me and he scoffed and went, “Yeah, you guys got a chance.”
That really pissed me off, and that pissed a lot of the other guys off, too. And you know what, we met them in the finals, and we beat them twice.
EO: He lit a fire under you.
SH: Oh yeah. Just the arrogance. Later on, I found out that they had four divisions with eight teams each division in their league.
I mean, obviously, we’re Ewing Township, and they’re Cincinnati, you know what I mean? They’re gonna have a lot more people.
We probably were the biggest underdogs in that whole tournament, and we only lost one game. Out of all the games we played in regionals and in the World Series, we lost one game.
EO: What’s being done for the team’s 50th anniversary?
SH: Right now we’re working with Ted Forst, and Carl Benedetti, a school board member, is also involved [in making the display to honor the team]. The town ordered cabinets, and they’ve already come in, and I’m going to donate some things—I have a lot of stuff.
I have the big plaque that I got for being player of the day, I have bats and I have a two uniforms for the team. I also have Wayne’s [BRL] World Series championship ring.
Editor’s Note: Krenchicki, who was Holzhammer’s best friend, passed away in 2018. Krenchicki played major league baseball between 1979 and 1984 as a third baseman for Baltimore, Cincinnati, Detroit and Montreal.
SH: When Wayne retired from baseball, he told me, “I’ve got all my rings. I’ve got my Venezuela League all-star ring and my 1979 American League Championship ring from when I was with Baltimore.”
He goes, “I really don’t want these, and I’m going to sell them because, they don’t fit anymore and I don’t wear rings.”
When he passed away, he left me some items, and he had kept only two rings—his Babe Ruth championship ring and his national championship ring for the summer college league in Colorado.
I wear my emotions on my sleeve, and when I saw that, I had a tear come to my eye. Here’s a guy that won an American League Championship, yet he sold that ring, but he kept his Babe Ruth ring. Wow.
That’s how special that team was. It’s just a great shame that the township never seems to have appreciated that team.
EO: How so?
SH: If you go into Jackson Township, they have a sign that says, “Home of the Toms River Little League championship team.”
I told that to Wayne a few years ago when he was alive. I said, “Don’t even we deserve a sign? If you notice Ewing baseball lately, it’s not going too well.”
It’s just a shame that 50 years has gone by, and there’s not even a sign. There’s nothing, there’s absolutely nothing.
The only thing that we had was on display at Freddie’s Tavern. We gave [owner Freddie Urbano] all of our trophies, because he was our sponsor, and he put up a lot of money for that team. I got them back now that they’re tearing the restaurant down.
EO: What do you think made you guys so good?
SH: Being from Ewing, we were brash. We were very brash. We didn’t take nothing from anybody.
I’ll tell you a story that’s really funny. They had a rec center that all the teams would go to when they weren’t playing, you know, like for basketball and stuff like that. We had a pretty good basketball team—myself, Wayne, Ronald Henley, Girard Goeke— and all these guys were like all-county basketball players.
So we were beating everybody, and then we ran into these Honolulu kids. They asked, “Hey, you guys play ping pong?”
A couple of us said, “Yeah, we play ping-pong.” I say, “Yeah, I play.” They smoked us.
I said, “Yeah, I’m ready,” and the next thing I know, I’m chasing the ball. That’s all I did. They were slamming and backhanding, and I said, “Yeah, I think I’m out of my element here.” These guys are fun and these guys are really good.
EO: What else do you think was special about that team?
SH: The people. The players and coaches. We were all very determined. And the camaraderie. It’s a lot of fun when you’re playing, but when you’re done, it’s the people that you miss the most.
We have something that can never be taken away. Especially after what we went through to win. I mean the odds were against us to begin with, but then the home fans started booing us and everything.
EO: How did you deal with some of the adversity you faced?
SH: Let me tell you how bad it was. Some fans put signs up at the field that said, “pee-yew-ing.” They were up even before we got to the field.
After I got the last out of the World Series—it was a ground ball and I got it and touched first base—we all ran out to the outfield where all these signs were, and we tore them down. We didn’t even jump on each other until later.
I mean it was tough, but that team is the greatest team that will ever play in Ewing Township. There’s not even anything close.
Contact BILL SANSERVINO: email@example.com, (609) 396-1511, ext. 104, facebook.com/BillSanservino.