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A Special Opening Day

Enjoying a pre-parade breakfast-2
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Hometown heroes of the 2003 World Series team lead parade and help launch Saugus Little League season

  It’s been two decades since the best Little League baseball team to ever take the field in Saugus took the town on a magical summer ride all the way to the Little League World Series in South Williamsport, Pa. But the magic of that wonderful summer never wore off and made an overcast day a sunny and memorable one for the hundreds who lined the two-mile-plus parade route from Anna Parker Field/Playground to Grabowski Field at Hurd Avenue last Saturday (April 22). The 2003 World Series team manager, Rob Rochenski, nine of his 12 players and two of his three coaches made their triumphal return in a makeshift “Duck Boat” that received a thunderous ovation when they arrived at Grabowski Field as the Irish band Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back in Town” blared over a DJ’s sound system.

  “This was awesome,” Dario Pizzano said in an interview following the Opening Day ceremonies.

  “We lived an incredible experience. That 2003 summer is something that will connect us forever. It’s great to come back here to be recognized by the town that supported us so much,” he said.

  Pizzano was one of the stars of that elite Saugus Little League all-star team whose team photo hangs on the wall outside the second floor auditorium at Saugus Town Hall. He went on to play professional baseball for eight seasons, retiring in 2021.

  “This was a special day,” said 11-year-old Richard Nuzzo, a Saugus Little Leaguer in the fifth grade at Belmonte STEAM Academy.

  “We can look up to them and also try to be one of the best teams,” Richard said as smiled and seemed to look upon Pizzano as a hero.

  “I coached ‘Nuz’ last year for his team, the Vikings,” Pizzano said as he put his arm around the boy’s shoulder.

  “I grew up with his dad, Richard. We played baseball together. Everybody on the 2003 team grew up playing sports with his dad,” he said.

An inspiration to future Little Leaguers

  In his Opening Day address, Saugus Little League President John Benoit said that the 2003 team – which went on a 25-game run that summer before finishing runner up in the United States and fourth in the world during the World Series tournament – should inspire current and future Saugus Little Leaguers to set lofty goals. Benoit noted that the 2003 team’s success contributed to a “rich history” of Little League baseball in Saugus, which dates back to 1972 – the year of its first district championship. He pointed to the 10 championship banners flapping in the wind on top of the outfield fence: 1972, 1976, 1985, 1986, 1990, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2012.

  “This is where memories start,” Benoit told the crowd, as he touted the greatly-improved Grabowski Field, which has undergone significant renovations and improvements in recent weeks in a campaign motivated to get the field in great shape so the town could celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Little League World Series team in style.

  “This field here is a total redo,” Saugus Little League Vice President Craig Smith said.

  “You’re standing in a new ball park, guys,” he said.

  Later, Pizzano and many of the players raved on how well the baseball field looked, saying it looked just like new.

  The Opening Day ceremonies were short, but special. Eugene Decareau, 93, who spent 15 years coaching Saugus Little League baseball, took some bows as he stood on the first base path, being recognized as “the oldest living Saugus Little League coach.” League officials also paid tribute to a popular coach on the 2003 team who was unable to attend the Opening Day ceremonies. Manager Rochenski accepted a plaque on behalf of Coach Charlie Bilton, a recipient of the “Outstanding Volunteerism Award.”

  Charlie Bilton dedicated many years of his life teaching and coaching kids in Saugus Little League, according to league officials. He is recognized as one of the most winningest managers during his time. He suffered a stroke earlier this year and has remained in the hospital as he continues his recovery.

A nostalgic occasion

  Bucky Cole, father of Craig Cole – one of the members of the 2003 All- Star Team – sang the National Anthem. The day was a nostalgic one – not only for the 2003 team and its supporters – but also for former Little League players, coaches and league supporters going back decades.

  Charlie Hickie, who spent two decades as a Little League coach, and his wife, Pam, were seen in the crowd. “They never missed one of our 25 games during the 2003 Little League World Series run,” said Rick Kasabuski, whose son Joe was a member of the 2003 team.

  The ceremony ended with nine of the members from the 2003 team taking the field and each one throwing out a ceremonial first ball to a Little League player standing behind home plate.

  This year’s Little League parade included 15 muscle cars arranged by Guy Moley, a longtime organizer of car shows at community fund-raising events and in parades.

  All five members of the Saugus Board of Selectmen reminisced about their own personal memories of being a part of the Saugus Little League. Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Debra Panetta wore the red jacket that belonged to her son, Mark, when he played Little League baseball. “This jacket is over 20 years old, but I saved it to wear once a year for the Little League Opening Day Parade,” Panetta said.

  “Over the last 20 years, I haven’t missed a parade. I have pictures of my daughter and me holding her hand in the parade. They were truly great memories,” she said.

  Panetta also has special memories of the 2003 season. One of her keepsakes is a $7.50 gift certificate from Kane’s Donuts, which she never used but saved. “These young men really brought the town together. It was so exciting,” she recalled.

  Board of Selectmen Chair Anthony Cogliano was a selectman back in 2003 and was a huge booster of the town’s famous Little League team. “I traveled everywhere with them and didn’t miss a game,” Cogliano recalled. “I left a trip on the Cayman Islands to get to Pennsylvania,” he said.

  Cogliano has plenty of good memories of his own career in the Saugus Little League. He played for the Athletics, a team that was sponsored by A Cogliano Food Mart. “In 1979, we were undefeated and won the championship,” Cogliano said. “I was a catcher and Scott Crabtree’s older brother Alan was a pitcher. And we didn’t lose a game,” he said.

  Selectman Jeff Cicolini said he played third base and centerfield while playing for the Angels in the Minor League back in 1984. His career as a manager was more remarkable, as his team – the Blue Jays – was undefeated in 2014 and won a championship. Selectman Corinne Riley recalled that her father coached her brother’s team back in the 1960s. Selectman Michael Serino recalled playing left field for the Angels in 1963 when he played Little League baseball in Saugus.

  Little League President John Benoit said Little League baseball is an activity that should be enjoyed by the entire community. “The big thing to keep in mind is that a lot of people think baseball stops in the Little League,” Benoit said. “But, it really goes on for years as parents coach their kids or their grandkids. Everybody has been involved in the Little League at some point,” he said.

  The 2003 Little League World Series Team: Mike Scuzzarella, pitcher/shortstop; Mark Sacco, pitcher/first base; Dario Pizzano, outfield; Yano Petruzzelli, third base; Matt Muldoon, pitcher/first base; Joe Kasabuski, pitcher/second base; Tyler Grillo, outfield; Dave Ferreira, outfield; Anthony DiSciscio, outfield; Craig Cole, pitcher/shortstop; Tyler Calla, catcher; Ryan Bateman, outfield; Manager Rob Rochenski; Coach Rob Calla; Coach Mike Ferreira; and Coach Charlie Bilton.

Enjoying a pre-parade breakfast-2
Enjoying a pre-parade breakfast last Saturday (April 22) outside Louie and Lucy Melillo’s house were players and coaches from the 2003 Little League World Series team. Pictured from left to right, they included Tyler Grillo, Coach Mike Ferreira, Mark Sacco, Yano Petruzzelli, Ryan Bateman, Tyler Calla, Dave Ferreira, Manager Rob Rochenski, Dario Pizzano, Craig Cole, Mike Scuzzarella and Coach Rob Calla. (Courtesy Photo to The Saugus Advocate by Rick Kasabuski)
These nine Saugus Little Leaguers-2
These nine Saugus Little Leaguers stood behind home plate to catch the ceremonial first pitch from members of the 2003 Little League World Series team. (Saugus Advocate photo by Mark E. Vogler)
Longtime Saugus Little League supporters-2
Longtime Saugus Little League supporters Charlie and Pam Hickey, now in their late 70s, were on hand last Saturday to join in the Opening Day ceremonies. (Courtesy Photo to The Saugus Advocate by Rick Kasabuski)

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