For Wayne, Wells performed like a pro

EASTTOWN TWP. » The celebration was tidy and the crowd in something less than an uproar Sunday at Devon P r ep, a t least until it was Steven Wells’ turn to hold the Delco League championship trophy high.

That’s when a few of his Wayne teammates sneaked up behind him to empty a small container of water over his head. That’s when Wells knew he was where he was supposed to be at that moment in his baseball career.

“Absolutely,” he said. “Absolutely. This is my fifth year in this league and my second with Wayne. And I can’t wait to come back and do it again.”

He’s 27 and a construction manager in Yardley, a graduate of The Hun School and Jefferson University where he was a Division II third-team All-American. A left-handed hitter, he had two home runs in the five-game championship series, and Sunday he contributed a hit, a walk and a run to a 2-0 series-clinching victory over Upper Darby.

“It feels awesome,” Wells said. “Everybody in this dugout deserved it.”

It was a captivating game in a captivating series, with Wayne winning its 18th championship, its fifth under manager Brian Fili. But it was not that long ago that the atmosphere was so much different for Wells, the power-hitting first baseman. That’s when he was playing in independent professional baseball, in 2017 with the Pecos League High Desert Yardbirds in Adelanto, Calif., and in 2019 with the Westside Woolly Mammoths of the United Shore League in Utica, Mich., making about $1,000 a month to hit.

Championships at that level result in Gatorade baths, not in sprays of spring water. Just the same, Wells would not have changed how he felt Sunday for all the potential parades around Adalanto, population 31,765..

“The amount of effort everybody puts in here just makes it that much more special,” he said. “At the pro level, there will be a couple thousand people watching. But this just means even more, because everybody puts the work in all summer.” Wells had 22 total games as a pro, hitting .261 at High Desert, then settling for four hits in 38 at-bats for Westside.

“I got released,” Wells said. “And not to make it about money — because it is never about money for me — but the amount of money I was making was not enough to sustain me up there. So I kind of weighed the options and prayed a lot to God and just found that the best idea was to just step back from that.”

Wells used his Jefferson degree in construction management to land a federal government position with a bridge management agency in Yardley. With encouragement from his high school teammate Ed Paparella, a former Wayne star, Wells gravitated to the Delco League, spending three seasons in Chester before turning to Wayne.

“This is his first championship, so we were trying to get one for him,” Fili said. “He’s a professional hitter. He’s a professional player. He’s an awesome teammate. Every single guy in this team loves him. He’s an awesome person.”

Wells, who singled in the fourth, drew a sixth-inning walk Sunday and scored the winning run on an error. When Bill Ford also scored on the play for a 2-0 lead, that was plenty for Cam Mathes, who pitched 3.2 hitless innings in relief and was named series MVP after picking up his third win in the series.

“It’s amazing playing with him, knowing you have him locking up your lineup,” Mathes said. “He’s such a great hitter. He has such a great eye. It seems like he is either hitting a double or getting a walk every other at-bat. And he is a great leader, too. A great teammate.”

For years, if only in hushed conversation, a question has bounced around Delaware County: How might the best teams or players in the Delco League do against the small-town, independent teams at the pro level? Could they occasionally win games?

“It’s so competitive here,” Wells said. “It is just as competitive as my time in professional baseball. The energy is about the same. Definitely, at the professional level, I think guys are more polished than they are here. There, it’s expected. Here, guys are working to get to that point. So I would say there is a gap, but it’s not that far. It’s not that far. There are some guys in this league — on our team, on their team — who can hit. The difference I noticed from professional ball to here is that everybody can hit up there. Here, it’s not as many people. But the good ones could definitely make that jump up there if they wanted to.”

Wells has no burning urge to return to the low-level minors. But he will listen.

“If the opportunity comes and somebody offers a contract, I would do that,” he said. “I would feel it out.”

He’s young enough and he can hit. But there he was Sunday, his hair soaked, his smile wide, a professional hitter satisfied with another season. Contact Jack McCaffery at jmccaffery@delcotimes. com