Sam Marino holds the championship game ball.Courtesy Nic Novak

The Forest Park All-Stars overcame adversity on and off the field to win the Berkeley Tournament. They also acquitted themselves well in the District and Bensenville tournaments. Thirteen 7-9 year-olds began practicing on July 1st and continued to hone their skills for the next twenty-three days. The core of the team was made up of six ten year-olds playing their third year season of traveling baseball.

Forest Park went 4-0 in the Berkeley Tournament against a field that included two River Forest teams and teams from Hillside, Berkeley and Evergreen Park. Coach Nic Novak recalled the title game against River Forest. “Sam Marino hit a homer over the fence and pitched a complete game victory.”

Sam’s father, Bob Marino, was managing the All-Stars, until he was involved in a serious auto accident at the start of the District Tournament. Sam managed to soldier on. Every time the All-Stars won, “The team gave the game ball to Sam to give to his dad,” Novak said.

In the District Tournament, Forest Park beat Maywood and Norridge but they were slaughtered by Elmwood Park and eliminated by River Forest. After their 3rd Place finish, Forest Park got revenge against Elmwood Park in the Bensenville Tournament.

“We were beating them 6-0 when the rains came,” Novak recalled, “The next morning we finished the game and won 9-5. The kids played their best game of the year.” Forest Park took home the 2nd Place trophy.

During its run, the Forest Park team received contributions from everyone on the roster. Gavin O’Connor caught all but three innings of tournament play. Micah O’Neal had big games on the mound and at the plate. “Jackson Gram, our leadoff hitter, had nine stolen bases in one game,” marveled Novak,” He stole 2nd, 3rd and home three times.”

Novak’s sons, Nic and Matt helped anchor the infield. “Matt made a couple of diving catches at 2nd base. He also came up with a big two-out two-run double. Nic scooped some low throws and made some diving stops at 1st base. He also pitched relief.” Forest Park used six different pitchers, including Gram, O’Neal and Evan Braniff.

Braniff had a mishap at the Park just before the Bensenville Tournament. “I told them they weren’t allowed to swim in the pool on games days,” Novak recalled, “Evan broke his ankle playing kickball at the Clubhouse and missed the whole tournament.” Evan’s father, Pat Braniff and Marcus O’Neal assisted Novak in coaching the team.

“We practiced and played for twenty-four days,” Novak said,” We got a lot better and the kids really enjoyed themselves. We had a picnic before the last game.” The post-season team party will be at Novak’s.