By Will Desautelle
The sun began to set over Howard J. Lamade Stadium as Elmora Little League of Elizabeth, New Jersey wrapped up their first practice at the mecca of Little League Baseball® with a series of situational base running drills.
On a deep flyball to right-center field, Santiago Alvarez, the baserunner at first, hesitated long enough to prevent himself from advancing all the way to third base. Elmora manager Jairo Labrador quickly stopped the practice to instruct the team.
“When you see the outfielder fully turn his back to the infield, you’ve got to be sprinting to the next base,” Mr. Labrador told his players. “Be aggressive.”
Through a strong emphasis to details, along with the enthusiasm Mr. Labrador brings each day, the Elmora Little League team has developed a strong sense of unity, instilling a drive in the players that has carried them all the way to the Little League Baseball World Series. The team is excited to continue to bring pride to their hometown.
“These boys have been working toward this goal since the age of 7,” Mr. Labrador said. “They push each other to make each other better.”
The drive and pride that the Elmora Little Leaguers exhibit on the field is reflective of the hardworking people from their hometown, many of whom are teachers, police officers, and firefighters. In fact, the team is nicknamed the Troopers after a former New Jersey State Trooper, Thomas Hanratty Jr., who died while on duty on April 2, 1992. Six years later, Hanratty Complex was established in Elmora before being chartered into Little League in 1999.
“By honoring the state police, we’re honoring all law enforcement and first responders. Especially in our town, there is a teacher, a police officer, or a fireman in every other house, and that’s why we take great pride in representing first responders and law enforcement,” said Mr. Labrador. “From the moment our kids became Troopers, we sat them down and told them how important it is to represent the Trooper name with class and dignity.”
To honor the heroes from their hometown, each of the players’ jerseys contains the New Jersey State Police patch and pin, along with Hanratty’s badge number, 4971. Before every game, the team rubs the patch and pin for good luck.
“We do that to represent all the State Troopers, especially Officer Hanratty,” said Sal Garcia. “They’re huge supporters of our team.”
During their journey to Williamsport, the Troopers lost just one game all summer, dropping their second game at the Mid-Atlantic Region tournament to Washington D.C.
Mr. Labrador has used one word to describe his team all season: grit. After Elmora lost to Washington, D.C., the team won its next three games, finishing the regional by defeating Haverstraw Little League from New York to advance to Williamsport.
“It’s all about the brotherhood that all of us have had since we were little,” said Yadriel Mateo. “There’s great communication between us and it’s a great team to be on.”
The Troopers have been the epitome of what the Elmora community embodies, forging a perfect combination of effort and passion on the diamond. In Williamsport, they’ll continue to represent the spirit of their community.
“We’re a very tight knit community. We’re a huge melting pot with different nationalities, and our emails have been blowing up with nothing but positive messages from every single person in our community,” said Mr. Labrador. “We just want to continue making them proud. They’re our 14th player right now.”