‘The Beast of the East’ Roared 20 Years Ago Today
Happy 20th Anniversary to the players and coaches who made up the Toms River East American All-Stars who on this day in 1998 beat a team from Kashima, Japan 12-9 to win the Little League World Series.
Todd Frazier, Scott Fisher, Gabe Gardner, Joe Franceschini, Casey Gaynor, Eric Campesi, R.J. Johansen, Mike Belostock, Brad Frank, Chris Cardone, Tom Gannon and Chris Crawford truly were the boys of summer while Mike Gaynor, Ken Kondek and Joe Franceschini were the men who coached them to little league’s ultimate accomplishment. It was a magical moment and time and I remember it like it was yesterday. It clearly put Toms River on the map in a positive way.
Many of those 12 boys would go on to have success on the high school and collegiate level (of course one is still in the majors) but likely never experienced the pure joy as they did on that Saturday afternoon in central Pennsylvania.
Last week I was able to sit down with manager Mike Gaynor and look back at the summer of '98. That rather long conversation is available on shoresportsnetwork.com.
While most people remember him for winning the championship that year I still believe his greatest accomplishment was taking three teams from the Toms River East Little League to Williamsport in a five-year stretch as he also managed teams in 1995 and 1999 that won the East Regional.
I’m sure many have forgotten that after winning it all in ’98 Toms River East almost did it again the following year, led by Casey Gaynor and Eric Campesi who were holdovers from the summer before. That team went 3-0 during pool play and only lost to Phoenix City, Alabama in the U.S. Championship game because of a rain delay that forced the game to resume the following day.
Toms River East is one of only two teams from the shore area to win the LLWS which started in 1947. The other was Lakewood who won it all in 1975 during a year in which the foreign teams were banned as Little League baseball investigated reports that international teams were violating residency and other guidelines.
That Lakewood team was led by Dion Lowe and Bobby DelConte who would later help lead Lakewood High School to a state championship.