Baseball All-Star Game Featuring the Shore’s Top Underclassmen Set to Debut This Summer
Fifteen years ago, Mike McGarrell had a vision for a local high school baseball all-star game featuring top underclassmen and a charity component, but then life got in the way.
McGarrell, a 1980 graduate of what was then St. Joseph's and is now Donovan Catholic, was diagnosed in 2005 with multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer of the blood and bones.
"I was really close to getting the event off the ground, and then my life went off the rails and all those years went by," McGarrell said. "The journey has been unbelievable. It's been a constant battle for years with broken bones, chemo, radiation, and three stem-cell transplants. I've been through hell and back a thousand times, but my best life has been lived on my journey with cancer."
Doctors have not found evidence of cancer in his system in the past 18 months thanks to a new drug he has been taking. During that time, he finally saw his idea become reality with last year's first all-star game in a baseball hotbed outside Atlanta, where McGarrell lives.
Now he is bringing the concept back to where his own baseball career began with the inaugural Monmouth-Ocean All-Star Game featuring the Shore's best underclassmen on July 10 at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood. Rosters with 25 players for each county will be selected by the Shore Conference coaches, who will nominate their top underclassmen during this season for inclusion in the game.
The day before the game will be the P4 Foundation Home Run Derby at FirstEnergy Park, an all-day event open to the public with participants ranging from 14 to 40, with all the proceeds going to the P4 Foundation. The organization was founded by now-17-year-old high school baseball player Gino Vizzi from Georgia, who is battling a rare form of incurable leukemia called chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).
"I didn't want to do just another all-star game,'' McGarrell said. "I wanted it to be for something significant. This gives us a platform to encourage kids to do something in their community and think of others before yourself. That's what the entire event is about."
McGarrell, 54, who comes to the Shore three or four times a year for his apparel business, befriended Vizzi and his father, who is originally from Hazlet, through a mutual friend. Gino's story and his perseverance since his diagnosis inspired McGarrell to want to join forces for the all-star game.
"What Gino and his family have done given this horrible circumstance is extraordinary,'' he said.
While the Shore Baseball Coaches Association has held a senior all-star game for decades, this will be the first game featuring top underclassmen, who previously only represented the Shore in the annual Carpenter Cup all-star tournament in Philadelphia. The intention is that this becomes a fixture on the calendar for Shore Conference baseball players, fans and coaches for years to come.
Stars like Toms River South’s T.J. Scuderi, Christian Brothers Academy’s Nick Hohenstein and Middletown North ace Tyler Ras, who were SSN second-team All-Shore selections as sophomores, are potential candidates in a game showcasing the Shore’s top young talent. One of the bigger challenges was finding a good date in the summer to attract the most top players, who often have packed schedules filled with showcases and games for their travel teams.
The inaugural all-star game put on by McGarrell's organization took place last year between top underclassmen in Cobb and Gwinnett counties in Georgia, one of the most talent-rich areas in the country. He had to overcome coaches' initial skepticism considering nothing like that had been done before, but the game was a success, featuring players heading off to top programs like Vanderbilt and Clemson.
He said bringing it to the Shore was a "no-brainer" when it came to expanding the concept, and got the stamp of approval from the Shore Conference coaches during a January meeting with them.
The Monmouth County head coach will most likely be St. John Vianney's Mike Morgan or Red Bank Catholic's Buddy Hausmann, while the head coach for the Ocean County team will be Toms River South Hall of Famer Ken Frank, the state's all-time wins leader. McGarrell played at Ocean County College under the legendary Al Fantuzzi, under whom Frank coached as an assistant for Toms River South before ascending to the head job in 1978.
Frank helped McGarrell finish his career as the No. 1 pitcher at Biscayne College in Florida by putting in a call to then-head coach Paul Mainieri, who is now the head coach at LSU, after McGarrrell was done at OCC. Frank had one of his Toms River South players headed to Biscayne and put in a word for McGarrell.
"I didn't even play for him in high school, but Kenny changed my life,'' McGarrell said. "He really gave me a college career."
McGarrell is looking to change some lives with the Monmouth-Ocean All-Star Game by teaching players the importance of community service while also getting them exposure in front of college coaches and hopefully big-league scouts.
"We're going to have an awards dinner the night before the game, and the focal point is making kids aware of what's going on in their community,'' he said. "We want this to be a first-class event that also will hopefully help the players with their college futures."
McGarrell, who has a daughter set to graduate from the University of Georgia this spring, also has learned plenty about himself during the journey into making his vision a reality while fighting for his life.
"You don't know what you have inside of you until you're in that situation,'' he said. "You can use this disease as an excuse and say 'woe is me,' or you can choose to be positive. When you think, 'Am I promised tomorrow?' and you're able to live with that, I think you live your best life."
WATCH: CBA's Nick Hohenstein smacks an RBI double
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