Jake Miller walked off the mound at Yankee Stadium just as he had seen his heroes do many times on television, with his work seemingly done for the day. But then he returned.
The 12-year-old lefty from Kingsbridge struck out 10 in two pitching stints and had two hits and an RBI to lead the Uptown Sports Complex Knights to a 6-2 win over the Bayside Rebels on Aug. 14 in the 12-and-under championship game of the inaugural Borough Cup.
The NYC All Stars Sports Group, which was created by WFAN radio host Craig Carton, Brooklyn Cyclones assistant general manager Gary Perone and four-time MLB All-Star and former Met John Franco, hosted the tournament, which began in July with more than 150 teams in five age groups.
The Knights are based out of the Uptown Sports Complex in Kingsbridge.
“This was a great experience, and it’ll be great for Little League baseball for years to come,” said Knights coach Juan Delarosa, a Queens resident who said his travel team is a non-profit organization that is fully funded by outside donations. One of the team’s sponsors, the Bronx Ale House, supplied new jerseys for the championship game.
‘A dream come true’
“It was amazing; it was a dream come true,” Miller, a lifelong Yankees fan, said about playing at Yankee Stadium. He then smiled, displaying a mouthful of braces, and said: “I never thought I’d get the opportunity, but now I have and it’s just great.”
The Knights led 4-0 going into the bottom of the fourth inning, but Miller allowed the first three batters to reach base, and two scored on an error. Delarosa replaced Miller with lefty Kelvin Marte, who got out of the inning without any further damage. But after giving up a bunt single to lead off the fifth, Marte left the game with an injury and Miller reentered, which is permitted in youth baseball.
“I was staying hydrated, staying in the shade and cheering on my team,” Miller said of his pitching hiatus. “Once coach took me out, I got a little break and I came back throwing gas.”
Miller recorded five of the final nine outs via strikeout, and the only baserunner he allowed in that time — a leadoff walk in the seventh — was erased on a double play.
“He’s really our game MVP,” Delarosa said of Miller. “[We thought] he was done for the day, and even though he’s a great bat, I needed to play two other kids. But we saw his pitch count was low and we said, ‘Jake, we need you to go back out there,’ and he said, ‘Coach, give me the ball.’”
Miller, the team’s leadoff hitter, was the catalyst for the Knights’ three-run first inning, as he singled to right, stole second and scored on a throwing error. Jason Sosa and Kevin Marte followed with back-to-back two-out RBI doubles, and Miller’s RBI bloop single in the top of the second made it 4-0.
With the score 4-2 in the fifth, the Knights’ Ryan Delarosa walked, moved to second on a bunt, third on a groundout and scored when Bryant Basset’s hot shot to third ricocheted off the fielder’s leg. In the seventh, Juan Maldonado was hit by a pitch and scored on an error to make it 6-2.
“We were getting a little nervous, but I didn’t think we’d ever lose the lead,” Miller said. “We got the bats rolling.”
The Knights’ day at Yankee Stadium started with a tour, and ended with them receiving personalized army tags for winning the tournament.
Carton, the emcee of the event, announced the lineups before the game as the players stood along the baselines. Franco, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., and former big league All-Stars Willie Randolph and Lee Mazzilli threw out the ceremonial first pitches. Franco (Lafayette), Randolph (Tilden) and Mazzilli (Lincoln) all played high school baseball in Brooklyn.
“The excitement throughout the five boroughs was amazing,” Franco said of the inaugural event. “We really feel this tournament has brought a sense of unity and spirit back to youth baseball throughout the city.”