Connecticut friends do remarkable things for team

Michael Iannazzo and Matthew Vivona usually are their all-star team’s youngest players. Their talents have let both Fairfield, Connecticut all-stars play up an age group the past several years.

Both enjoyed the experiences and their teammates. They also enjoyed some fantastic runs, including last year when Fairfield came within a victory of reaching the Little League World Series. Still, there is something about playing with the same kids one attends the same classes with at school. There is something about playing with teammates the same age who best understand you.

So Iannazzo and Vivona felt right at home this season when they played among their own classmates. The feeling is reciprocal. Together, those friends have done something remarkable, helping Fairfield American Little League capture the New England championship and reach the Little League World Series. Together as one for the first time in a long time, this team has carved out a place in a tradition-laden program’s history. The seasoned Iannazzo/Vivona duo is a big reason why.

“I can’t say enough about how all these boys have played,” Fairfield manager Mike Randazzo said. “But let’s be honest, we have the two best players in our district back this year and obviously they are a huge key to the success of the program.”

Iannazzo and Vivona help anchor the middle of the infield and also pitch well. Just as important, they both are tremendous hitters. Those are some of the qualities that so often have both playing up an age group in the past.

This being their last year as Little Leaguers, however, Iannazzo and Vivona knew they would be playing in their own age group this time. That has added even more fun to an already dream-like experience this summer.

“He looked forward to this year because he knew he was playing with kids his age and nothing against last year’s team, but it was an older group. This year he felt more comfortable,” Vivona’s father Matt said. “They all hang out constantly. They are all good friends. Both he and Michael also play on the AAU Wolfpack together and have been playing for a while together and this year coming back to their normal age group has been a nice change. He’s gone from being one of the smaller kids on the teams in terms of age to one of the leaders on the team.”

That leadership and experience both players provide is a blessing. Everything that went on during the road to the Series was something Iannazzo and Vivona already experienced. The only difference was that last year’s run at the New England Regional championship. This time, Fairfield took the final step, pounded Maine, 10-0, in the final and reached the Series for the third time since 2010.

The usual anxiety that some teams might feel while playing all those tournament games did not faze Fairfield. Iannazzo and Vivona were there to explain exactly how things went and how they should approach them. Yes, what happens on the field matters most, but those intangibles added a huge boost.

“The great thing is we were able to get two of the boys to be a part of this experience last year of getting to the New England final so they had that experience already,” Fairfield American Little League president Matt McGuire said. “The experience and how they shared that information with the other players definitely helps.”

“The experience they have is huge. You walk into Bristol (for regionals) and people already know them and are greeting them by name,” Randazzo said. “The kids follow them and get them acclimated like they are playing at our home field in Fairfield. They are big-time impact players on a team that was already very good and the result is 18-0 (entering the Series) and being New England champions.”

Iannazzo and Vivona hit Nos. 2-3 in Fairfield’s deep lineup and have delivered big hits and timely run production all summer. They have played some of their best baseball in Fairfield’s biggest games and went a combined 5 for 8 with three doubles and seven RBIs in the New England final. Iannazzo hit .455 and drove in a team-high seven runs while not striking out or making an error.

Vivona was equally impressive, hitting .636 with two home runs, six RBIs and five runs. Vivona teamed up with Iannazzo to turn a game-changing double play against Maine and also threw three strong innings.

Above the stats, Iannazzo and Vivona are doing something especially crucial. They are helping elevate every players’ performance. The results are Fairfield becoming one of the world’s best Little League teams.

“They are trying to pick up other teammates,” Vivona said. “Being a good baseball player is not just hitting and fielding the ball, but if you can help other players play well and feel great.”

Consider that mission accomplished.