Little League 'uncles' guide players through tourney

Little League "uncles" Peter Lupacchino and Bruce Sechrist (right) watch their charges from Taney take batting practice Monday.
Little League "uncles" Peter Lupacchino and Bruce Sechrist (right) watch their charges from Taney take batting practice Monday. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: August 20, 2014

SOUTH WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Before the Taney Dragons arrive at their assigned field for practice, Josh Lupacchino is already there, equipment in the back of his golf cart, a Mid-Atlantic team hat on his head.

Lupacchino, 30, is one of about three dozen volunteers, most from the Williamsport area, who are assigned to help teams and stick with them throughout their stay in the tourney.

The Little League calls them hosts, but their shirts - and the players - call them "uncles."

"Sunup to sundown, we're just here to help them out, whatever they need," Lupacchino said. "From their first uniform fitting to their last day in the dorms."

Taney's three uncles knock on dorm doors in the morning to remind the players it's time to wake up, and stick with them every day to make sure they get where they need to be - which for Philadelphia's team can mean navigating through crowds of fans or escorting media darling Mo'ne Davis into interviews, or away from them.

Lupacchino, 30, is technically a "utility uncle" assigned to all teams, but he has spent all his time with Taney, where his father, Peter, is assigned, and where there is need for added support. The elder Lupacchino has been doing this for 22 years, following in the footsteps of his own father, who started in 1958 and continued for 45 years.

That seems to be a theme. Of the 37 volunteer uncles this year, most have at least 10 years' experience. Nine have been doing it for more than 20 years.

"It gets in your blood," said Peter Lupacchino, 62, of Jersey Shore, about 13 miles west of Williamsport. "This is a great group of kids, good representatives of Philadelphia, very polite. They really stay together as a team - they get along well. It can be tough living together at times, but they're fine."

Josh Lupacchino grew up in Jersey Shore and is now a manager at a sporting-goods store in Virginia. He comes up each year to volunteer with his father. It's how both men use all of their vacation time: being at the beck and call of a Little League team.

"They're amazing," Josh Lupacchino said while watching practice Monday afternoon, intermittently shouting "heads" to warn spectators as foul pop-ups rained down. Taney drew about a dozen fans to its practice, a 10-minute walk from the stadium where official games were being played. "I hope they continue to win, and even if they don't, they're still one of the best 16 teams in the nation," he said.

Uncles are assigned at random - they draw baseballs with region names from a bucket in June, before they even know which teams will make it.

The Lupacchinos say there haven't been any crazy requests from the team, or at least not any that they'll reveal.

When a broken water main at the dorm forced the team to relocate Thursday night, coach Reggie Cummings returned before any of the players. Josh Lupacchino took him out to lunch at a local Italian place. "He was getting a little sick of the food here," Lupacchino said.

And when the Dragons slept in late Monday morning after their electrifying 7-6 win the night before, the uncles brought doughnuts.

Bruce Sechrist, 62, is the team's third uncle. He's good friends with the Lupacchinos and in his 11th year.

Sechrist said that while the hype around Taney is exciting, his allegiance always falls with the team with which he is paired, regardless of where it hails from. International teams get uncles, too; their traveling translators play a big part in those relationships.

"They're all stars when I get them," Sechrist said. "When I get a team, I make them the stars. They're my team. I root till the end for them."

856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

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