By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
Absegami baseball coach Mike DeCicco has been preaching to his young roster all season about having a “so what?” mentality. Not that he doesn’t want his players to care about winning, it’s more of a way to get past the mistakes young baseball players are prone to make, and do it quickly. You make an error? So what? Make the next play. Strike out? So what, do better in your next at-bat.
He doesn’t want his players dwelling on the difficult parts of the game, and by being able to turn the page quickly, he hopes a bunch of underclassmen can learn that there are more important things in this world than if they performed well on a baseball diamond on a spring afternoon.
The Absegami players got a reminder last week about just how important real-life situations can be when they welcomed Galloway Township Middle School eighth-grader — and future Braves baseball player — Evan Gilger to throw out the first pitch prior to ‘Gami’s game against Ocean City. Absegami lost 12-0 to the Red Raiders in a five-inning blowout, but coach DeCicco reminded them about what took place in the pregame.
Evan is battling cancer, as is 7-year-old Frankie LaSasso, who was on hand along with his dad, Frank, who is an assistant coach at Ocean City. Both young boys were honored before the game and treated like stars by the Braves and Red Raiders. Frankie will get the royal treatment once again later this month when the Ocean City baseball and softball teams travel to Hammonton, Frankie’s hometown, for a “Fight Like Frankie” doubleheader at Hammonton Lake Park that is meant to raise money for childhood cancer research.
“That was special. (Evan) is an eighth-grader at Galloway Township Middle School and his brother played for us. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. There are always way worse things going on. Yeah, we lost a baseball game today, but it can always be worse,” DeCicco said in the waning daylight on Friday. “It’s so inspiring, not only to see Evan out here today but also for coach LaSasso to bring Frankie out. You wouldn’t wish this on your worst enemy. For us, it comes back to baseball and our ‘so what?’ mentality — I know it’s difficult and tough, but at the end of the day you have to keep chugging along.”
Neither boy is out of the woods yet, and both are going through weekly rounds of chemotherapy. Evan has a great support system with his parents, Kelley and Ed Gilger, brothers Gabe and Aaron and sister Mya, and Frankie has a similar situation with his dad, mom Tiffany and younger brother Geno.
“He’s going through chemo right now,” DeCicco said of Evan, “but he’s a really tough kid and I know he’s going to be able to get through it because he’s a fighter. This is a family, this is a community and you have to be able to fall back on your community through good times and bad times. Truthfully, I think all the future success he’ll have an all the things he’ll accomplish will be that much sweeter because he’s going through this.”
Gabe Gilger was a key player on the first team DeCicco had as head coach after taking over for Brian Wastell, as the Braves went 16-6 in 2019, including a 10-2 mark in the Cape-Atlantic League National Conference.
“Gabe is someone who means a lot to me. He was part of that group that I worked my way up the ladder with. I coached him as a freshman, then we were on JV together then we came up to varsity together,” DeCicco said. “And we had such success in 2019, that’s a bond that will never go away. His brothers, his sister — to me, they are all family and they are a part of our little (Absegami baseball) circle.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays