By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Staff Writer
It’s not quite at the level of Yankees vs. Red Sox, or Michigan vs. Notre Dame, but there’s a pretty neat little rivalry brewing in Atlantic County on the youth baseball level, and parents and fans got a big taste of what might be coming down the road when Atlantic Shore took on Atlantic West on July 28 during pool play at the Babe Ruth 13-year-old Mid-Atlantic Regional tournament.
The teams battled hard for seven innings, with Atlantic Shore surrendering a one-run lead late in the game, only to rally for two runs in the bottom of the seventh to win the game, 6-5, on a walk-off double by reserve infielder Trevor Smith. A-Shore vs. A-West used to be a nice little rivalry, but the past three years Atlantic West didn’t field a team. This year that changed, as coach Joe Thompson drummed up enough interest to get an A-West team together.
Thompson and Joe Sheeran coach the Hammerheads, a local travel team program, and that team features eight players who ended up playing for A-Shore in this year’s state and regional tournaments. And A-Shore coaches Mike Gill, Don Myers and Steve Santiago have strong ties to their squad. Gill, a radio personality at 97.3 ESPN FM, is a lifelong Ventnor resident, and Myers’ son, Steve, was an A-Shore player, as was coach Santiago.

Atlantic West and Atlantic Shore used to be rivals at the 13-year-old Babe Ruth level, and that rivalry was renewed this summer when A-West entered a team into the state tournament for the first time in a few years. Both squads advanced to the Mid-Atlantic Regionals. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)


The teams squared off in the state tournament, with A-West winning, before A-Shore returned the favor at regionals. Both teams advanced out of pool play at regionals, with A-West falling in the quarterfinals and A-Shore dropping a 3-1 heartbreaker to Hamilton-Northern Burlington in the semis.
But that Saturday night game was one for the ages, and featured Thompson’s son, Joel, on the mound going up against many of his travel ball teammates.
“It’s been a couple of years since A-West has had an all-star team. It used to be a rivalry years ago. They started a team about seven or eight years ago, but for the past three years we haven’t had a team because there hasn’t been a whole lot of interest. But I kind of pushed it this year and we got a lot of kids interested,” coach Thompson said. “Eight of the kids on the A-Shore team, I coach with John Sheeran on a travel team called the Hammerheads, and a few others that I have are some Sand Sharks players and Muckdogs players. It’s a tough thing, but they go at it like crazy competitors when they are on the field against each other. But once the game is over, it’s nice to see they are the best of friends, talking with each other and spending the night at each other’s houses. It’s pretty cool.
“You’re on the edge of your seat every inning, and that makes for some great baseball. What makes it so good is they all know each other so well, so it’s like a feeling-out match. Everybody knows how to pitch each other and what their strengths and weaknesses are,” he added. “It’s definitely an uncomfortable feeling at first (coaching against my players). I got used to it the second time once we played A-Shore (in the state tournament). Once the game gets started I’m able to focus. I know all their strengths, and they are some good ballplayers. It’s a mixed feeling. I want to beat them real bad, but I’m happy if they get a hit. It’s a weird feeling.”
Thompson said his son was fired up to pitch against A-Shore, and it showed, as he twirled an outstanding game before reaching the pitch limit and handing the ball off to the relief corps.
“My son likes it. It’s a similar situation, he wants to beat them, but at the same time he’s happy for them if they do well. That’s how he felt when he was pitching, he was like, ‘dad, that was really fun.’ The whole time he’s trying to keep them off balance, but at the same time he’s happy for them when they get a hit, just as long as they don’t get too many. I just told him to stay focused and not to think of them as your friends, we have to treat this as if we’re playing any other team, go out there and hit your spots and remember who’s who. Keep the ball away from certain guys and hit your spots, and get the off-speed stuff working right away because they have some good hitters on that team and we know who they are,” coach Thompson said. “There are kids on both teams who have been doing it for years and are pretty poised out there.”

A-Shore assistant coach Steve Santiago, himself a former player in the program, gets his players pumped up before taking on Atlantic West during the state championship tournament in July. (Glory Days Magazine photo/Dave O’Sullivan)


Joel Thompson was opposed on the mound by Van Patten, who said he wanted nothing more than to beat A-West, especially after dropping that game in the state tournament to the rival squad.
“That’s one of the biggest part of the rivalry is we all know each other and we’re used to playing as teammates, so it’s different when you’re playing against them. But, obviously, we want to beat them. It’s hard (not to get overhyped) but I know these kids and I know them as hitters, so that gives me some advantage. But, I know they are good players, too,” Patten said. “I was so happy when Trevor got that hit. That made my weekend. I think it’s good to start playing here rather than go into high school and having the rivalry.”
“I’ve coached Van’s teams for the past four or five years, and when you coach these boys, you’re pulling for them. It doesn’t matter if your son’s pitching or not. You want (A-West players) to do well, but, obviously not too well (against A-Shore),” added Patten’s father, Mark. “It’s great to watch, though. The level of baseball in our area is impressive. When you come to a regional tournament like this, and you see two really good local teams battling it out, down to the last out, it’s a good experience.”
The kids on both of these teams will be going to rival high schools such as Oakcrest, Cedar Creek and EHT for A-West players, and schools like Ocean City, Mainland, Holy Spirit and Atlantic City for the A-Shore guys, so in a year or two, they’ll take this budding rivalry to the scholastic level.
“This is what they are going to be doing in high school, they’re going to be going up against their friends. They’ll be in different high schools, and they’ll have to find a way to get each other out and get used to playing against each other. Four of the kids on my team will be going to Oakcrest, three are going to Cedar Creek and two more will be going to EHT,” coach Thompson said. “I think this rivalry will just intensify. I have a bunch of kids who want to sign up for A-West now, and the good news is that by having a team this year, and having some success, it’s drawing interest from some other kids who could have signed up this year but didn’t. There are a couple kids from Galloway and EHT, and another from Mays Landing, who could have played, but they didn’t really know much about it. But now, I see this rivalry intensifying big time.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: sully@acglorydays.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays