Frankford tops GAMP for Public League crown

Posted: May 25, 2012

By Ted Silary

Daily News Staff Writer

Frankford High long has billed itself as "The Home of Champions" and, let's face it, though the tag is meant to be all-inclusive, football is the sport with the highest profile.

But, hey, look over there. There has been a changing by the guard and he's now sporting a baseball uniform.

Is he justified? You might say his thought process is definitely in the ballpark.

On Friday at Richie Ashburn Field, hard by I-95 at the back of FDR Park, in South Philly, Frankford's diamond squad racked up quite the achievement.

By besting Girard Academic Music Program, 8-3, before a lively, sweltering crowd, Frankford became the first Public League squad to win seven, three-major-sports championships in a 10-year span since Overbrook ruled basketball - thanks to the likes of future NBAers Wilt Chamberlain, Walt Hazzard and Wali Jones - with the same number of successes from 1950 to '59.

The best crown-claiming effort in a 10-year span by the football version of the tri-colored Pioneers (that's also GAMP's nickname) has been six, most recently from 1978 to '87. And while baseball has notched eight titles since 2000, football has settled for four.

When senior righthander Rafael "Omar" Cruz retired pinch-hitter John Hakun on a liner to second baseman Josiah Cedeno, Frankford's guys rushed to hug and holler while shortstop Ricky Alvarez performed a flip. Soon, the coaches were being doused and rightfielder Hector Cerda was running around the bases, yelling "Whoa!" again and again while holding aloft the trophy. Following orders from several teammates, he slid a short slide into home.

Prominent among Friday's heroes was a kid who goes 6-4, 250. We're talking about junior first baseman Kevin Montero and the phrase he does want to hear is, "You should be playing football."

"I like it to watch, but not to play," said Montero, who moved to Philly 3 years ago from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. "I mean, I do some football in the street, but on a team? Nahhhhhh. Noooooo. Baseball, that's the thing in my country. I'm sticking with that."

Care to guess who coordinates Frankford's football defense? His name is Juan Namnun. He's also the baseball coach.

"It's tempting to think about Kevin being out there for football," Namnun said. "The kid's athletic. He's gifted. He wouldn't be bad as a defensive tackle or end. As big as he is, he moves very well. I'd never try to force him, though. He's already a very good baseball player. His future looks bright."

In helping Frankford win its second consecutive title, Montero, batting cleanup, went 3-for-3 with two RBI and one run scored.

And get this: He tried to steal a base! That happened in the fifth, but Brandon Gonzalez fouled off the pitch.

"I was happy to get that sign," Montero said. "Nah, I was not surprised. He did it before. I have maybe four, five steals this season."

And the eyes of four, five middle infielders are still being mistaken for saucers.

Montero's most important hit came in the home first after GAMP pitcher Desmond Drummond had launched a two-run homer over the fence, near the 375-foot sign, in right-center, thus providing all kinds of early excitement.

Augusto "June" Ortega reached base on a single, Alvarez walked and Hector Cerda laced an RBI double into right-center. Montero fired a two-run single up the middle and - bing! - just like that the early jolt had been overcome. And Frankford would be ahead for good.

"I thought it was awesome that GAMP jumped on us like that," Namnun said. "It was a wakeup call I wanted us to have. We love a challenge. I knew Archie's team [GAMP's coach is Art Kratchman] wouldn't let us have a walkover, especially with how they've been playing the last month. When that home run happens, it's like you're thinking, 'OK, here we go. This is baseball!' "

Said Cruz: "I watched GAMP's [semifinal] win over Central. I knew they'd be hungry. So, there was no overconfidence. That pitch to Drummond was pretty bad. A neck-high fastball. But he got a hold of it and put it out the park."

Montero said his big hit came on a curveball, and that he was primed to jump on it.

"So many pitchers throw me curves," he noted. "Before, I didn't hit them too nice. But I see so many . . . I'm better at it now.

"Watching that ball get through up the middle, that was a great feeling."

Frankford added three more runs in the fourth and two in the fifth. Right after fouling off a suicide squeeze, leadoff batter Ortega fired a three-run triple to right-center. An infield error on Rosario's grounder allowed both fifth-inning runs.

Cruz, making his third consecutive title-game start, allowed four hits and two walks while striking out seven. His fielders were guilty of just one error and that was an inconsequential outfield bobble. Alvarez made an especially nifty play on a grounder deep into the shortstop hole.

Cruz incurred the loss vs. Central in the 2010 final and went the distance last year in a 5-4 triumph over Thomas Edison.

"It's a championship game, so you still get nervous," Cruz said. "No matter how much experience you have, the deal is still, 'Play your heart out. Better team wins.' But to be out there for 3 years in a row in championship games, that's cool. Not a lot of people get to do that."

He smiled. "Still tough, though."

At least Cruz could participate. Junior infielder Kidanny Cumba, his right leg in a cast, had to watch from the bench after breaking a bone near his ankle while stealing second in Wednesday's semi vs. George Washington.

"That's 2 years now," he said, pointing to his left arm. "That messed up my season last year. I just want to come back next year and lead us to another title.

"While watching, I just kept on picturing good things. Kept seeing us winning the title. As rough as it was not being able to help, I did get to see everyone do their jobs."

And of those guys he saw was a big-'un who's allergic to football.

Contact Ted Silary at silaryt@phillynews.com

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