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

Wilmington corps brings good old days back to Aston Valley


ASTON >> Nostalgia can be a dangerous thing in the Delco League. On the one hand, it informs the voluminous history underpinning the league for the last 11 decades.

But an unhealthy attachment to the past doesn’t always serve a team well in the quest for wins in the present.

The ability to adapt, to turn the page on eras, to capitalize on unfilled niches — that evolution informs how a franchise can remain competitive over a sweep of a decade or more.

Perhaps in not so many words, the champagne-soaked Aston Valley Knights expressed similar sentiments Thursday night after a 7-4 win over Narberth in Game 4 of the Delco League finals as they took turns swilling beer from the Charlie Kress Trophy for the first time since 2013. The crew celebrating proved overwhelmingly different — yet in some crucial ways, similar — from the group crowned four years ago.

“It is different. We’re a little younger than we’ve been,” third baseman Sammy Farnell said. “We used to have a lot of veteran guys and I was the young college kid, so it’s definitely a different team than we used to win with, a completely different team. But when you all have the same goal of wanting to win, it’s easy to mix in everyone.”

The imprint on the current Knights is much more noticeable in the boxscore than the interlocked “WU” in green and gold on many helmets. Six of the 10 players in the clincher hailed from Wilmington University. They included starting pitcher Dan Hyatt, who worked five innings for the win on the heels of closing Game 3, and reliever Frank Nigro, who caught the first five frames.

Also in that group: Max Carney, who drilled a two-run homer and drove in four; first baseman Kendall Small, who belted a two-run homer in the third inning that doomed Narberth; and leadoff man Julian Kurych, crowned the Top Lumber series MVP for reaching base in over half of his plate appearances.

All but one of that group were playing in their first Delco League campaign. The dots connect through Carney, a redshirt sophomore for the Wildcats who attended Concord High School in Delaware and whose brother, Jarad, was a standout at Sun Valley, Neumann University and an Aston Valley mainstay.

To say that infusion of talent played an integral role in landing Aston Valley’s sixth title would be a gross understatement.

“It was awesome,” Kurych said. “Obviously we didn’t know anyone coming in here. Originally we thought we were going to go away and play summer ball somewhere else, but that ended up not happening and they welcomed us with open arms. They treated us like family, and we’re all one big family now. It’s an awesome experience, and we had fun doing it.”

They’re also drastically different than the corps that last lifted a title. Many of the staples of those squads — Brian Campbell, Freddie Hilliard, Chad Stecker, John Plasha, Matt Wilcox and other tormentors of Delco League opposition — have called it quits, phasing out over the last few years. Vets like Steve Maloney now spend more time in the third-base coaching box than patrolling center field.

Farnell and Rob Caruso, who still provide big bats in the middle of the order, are two of the few holdovers. And while their contributions on the diamond are tangible, of equal importance is the dissemination of the Knights’ history and culture to the young guys.

“It wasn’t as difficult as I thought it was going to be, because they have a good attitude, they’re good players and they want to win, just like we want them to win,” Farnell said. “So it wasn’t difficult at all. It was great, and I loved it.”

Aston’s strategy in unearthing the Wilmington pipeline is what all nine franchises look for: A foothold in a crowded, interconnected market of talent. Narberth’s first title last year owed to its penetration of the college market (the Game 5 win went to Greg Krug, a lanky La Salle pitcher from Virginia). Wayne this year relied on a nucleus of Villanova signees.

Each franchise has its moments tapping into certain veins of talent. The elite survive by constantly replenishing the squad with new bodies while retaining a connection to a mentality that breeds the dedication and focus needed to succeed.

“They got the hang of it, that this is one of our rivals, so is Wayne,” Farnell said. “They picked up on that quickly. We let them know, ‘hey this team, they’re good. They know us, we know them.’ They picked up on that pretty quick.”

Maloney reserves high praise for this group that puts them in line with previous versions of Knights, groups that were among the most self-assured of their identity in the league.

“They brought this intensity, and it reminded us of the years that we were going back to back, with all those guys,” Maloney said. “It was back to old days with those guys. These guys like to have fun.”

For Aston Valley, having fun means winning. By that metric, as they chased each other around Buggy Field with gushing bottles of bubbly in the twilight, the Knights are having just the right amount of fun.

Aston Valley Knight and 2017 Top Lumber Finals MVP Julian Kurych describes his approach as the leadoff hitter as well as how the Knights were able to use an early surge to take the title.



Aston Valley Knight Marc Spero talks about where this year's title ranks in comparison to the others that he has been a part of. 

Aston Valley's Steve Maloney talks about his team's game 3 victory:



Aston Valley's Zach Youngberg talks about his pitching approach that helped him pitch deep into game 3:

Aston Valley's Marc Spero talks about his team's game 2 win:



Aston Valley's Rob Caruso talks about how the Knights responded in a game 2 win: