Fairfield LL paving its own historic run

Most teams competing at the Little League World Series brought along resumes filled with past championship achievements.

The Fairfield American League Little League all-stars were not among those teams. It truly seems unreal that a league represented at the Series for a third time since 2010 would bring a team to South Williamsport that never before won any tournament championship. Period.

Believe it or not, that is the Fairfield story in 2017. Before this year, this Fairfield group never won any kind of championship. Not states, not districts. Nothing. Not even a local in-town tournament.

Maybe they are late bloomers, but Fairfield sure has made up for lost time. It captured district, section, state and regional championships this summer and now the New England champions are going for the biggest prize of all.

“To get here with this team that has never even won a district tournament is just amazing,” Fairfield manager Mike Randazzo said. “We lost in districts at 10 and 11 and then all the sudden to go to the Little League World Series is just unbelievable.”

Make no mistake, this team was no slouch before. It reached district finals the past two seasons and that is no small achievement. Connecticut’s District 2 is a terrific one featuring the likes of 1989 world champion Trumbull, 2013 Series qualifier Westport and Fairfield National. The team’s current Nos. 2-3 hitters Matthew Iannazzo and Matthew Vivona also played up the last two years and were not with this team.

Still, to go from never winning a championship to becoming one of the country’s best eight Little League teams feels like a true Cinderella story. Yes, Fairfield has one of the country’s best Little League traditions but this is like starting at the bottom of Mount Everest and reaching the summit in a day.

“The likelihood of having this type of run and trying to repeat it (as in 2010 and 2012 when Fairfield reached the Series) is near impossible, but it’s a talented group of boys,” Fairfield American Little League President Matt McGuire said. “It’s so special because it’s so hard to do. It’s a special group of boys. They deserve all the credit in the world.”

Before Fairfield could think Series, it had to first show it could win a district championship. Fairfield blitzed through its first six games of pool play but trailed in its initial double elimination game against Westport. But instead of thinking about whether history would repeat itself, Fairfield started flipping the script and marching toward history. It rallied to win that game, 3-2 and cruised from there, winning its first district and section championships.

States presented another challenge and Fairfield twice trailed in games against Newington. Again, Fairfield fought back and won both games. It also erased a 3-0 deficit against New Hampshire at regionals, finished undefeated there and entered the Series 18-0. Talk about a reversal of fortune.

“You have to give credit to other teams along the way. Our district is very tough and there has been some truth that if you survive District 2 the path might not be as difficult but it only takes one pitcher and you just never know,” McGuire said. “They are giving it their all. It’s truly remarkable. It’s a very special time.”

Fairfield carries the maximum number of all-stars, 14, and some questioned whether that was necessary. Randazzo, his coaches and league officials thought it was and constantly have been validated. There has been no drop-off when Fairfield has gone to its bench. National television audiences learned that at regionals as the bottom of the order and the reserves sparked pivotal moments in the last two wins against New Hampshire and Maine.

Maybe Fairfield was a hit, pitch or play away from making summer-long runs the last two seasons. Those just escaped their grasp. But in their final Little League season these all-stars have played the best baseball of their lives and carried on the storied Fairfield tradition.

“We took a little grief for carrying 14, but here we are in Williamsport,” Randazzo said. “Everyone is contributing. We came here 18-0 and are in the Little League World Series so we know we made the right decision.”

“This area is very baseball-committed. Every kid on the team plays on a travel team and you look in our district and most of the other kids play on a travel team so it’s more and more baseball,” Vivona’s father Matt said. “Our (enrollment) numbers aren’t off the charts, but they get a lot of support from the the families and a lot of families realize that if you want to play baseball in the town and be considered for the summer all-star team, you have to practice and put in the time.”

These Fairfield players did just that. They did not let past disappointments stop them. Fairfield focused on doing something special in 2017. Now, a team that never won a championship before will go down as one of the best teams in state history. Their legacy, though, is not just being champions. They also are fighters.

“All 14 families and all 14 boys are great. We couldn’t do it without the families and the boys buying in,” Randazzo said. “It’s been an absolute pleasure to coach these boys and be with these families this summer. This summer will unquestionably be remembered for the rest of our lives.”