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FOND MEMORIES: Brooklawn American Legion 72 Years of Baseball Glory Days

Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes or games are created equal--George Will

Screenshot 2024-04-29 at 22.22.28photo credit American Legion Baseball

 

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Joe "Pop" Barth
CNBNews photo

                       

 

                            by John Kellmayer

 

 

Baseball is a game of legends. One of New Jersey’s biggest baseball legends is Joe “Pop” Barth. Before I wrote this story, I wanted to visit the field named in his honor.

 

In the tiny Cabin County community of Brooklawn, there is a baseball field, located  less than fifty yards from Route 130.  An Italian restaurant  on 130 pumps music into its parking lot. It is a cold January afternoon. A line of  dark clouds drifts across the sky like the keels of ships. Standing near first base, I  can hear Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days” coming from the  speakers in the restaurant  parking lot. 

 

 At first glance, there is nothing unusual about this field. There are two scuffed baseballs in the dirt behind home plate and a rake leaning  against the backstop. There are hundreds of such fields through New Jersey. I look at the scoreboard  identifying the site as the Pop Barth Field. 

 

  My imagination comes alive and  it is the spring of 1952,  Harry Truman is President, and Dwight D. Eisenhauer is campaigning for the November election. A young man named Joe Barth, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania,  has assembled a group of high school baseball players who will comprise the first Brooklawn American Legion team. Barth is talking to his team  about commitment, discipline, and preparation. He says, “If you have a car, get rid of it. If you have a girlfriend, drop her. You are going to play baseball seven days a week.”  

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Post 72 Manager/Coach Joe Barth...CNBNews photo

 

From this modest beginning seventy-two years ago, the Brooklawn American Legion baseball franchise has become, arguably, the most successful team in the history of the American Legion . The franchise has seen many hundreds  of players move  on to play  college baseball and a significant number into professional ball.

 

  Baseball is also a game of myth. I imagine the history these grounds  have witnessed. There is a solemnity to a baseball field in the winter, and it presses upon me like a weight.  From the home team dugout, I imagine Roy Hobbs of the movie  The Natural step out, swinging his bat named Wonder Boy, which he  carved from a tree that had been struck by lightning. Then  I  see Shoeless Joe Jackson emerge from the Iowa corn maze in Field of Dreams.

 

If there is a literal field of dreams in New Jersey, it is here in Brooklawn. Thousands of young men from every region of America  share the dream of playing in college and even professional baseball. Only a very  small number will succeed. But here at the Pop Barth Field, which seems strangely unaffected by the passage of time, the beliefs and values that Pop taught in the 1950s and for the ensuing decades  remain unchanged. In a world of artificial intelligence and robotics, where the pace of change seems to accelerate every year, the dreams of the Brooklawn players have not changed. They want to be the best ballplayers they can be. And these young men understand if they follow  Pop’s advice, they will succeed. 

 

Pop passed away at the age of 92 in 2014. He had given up coaching long before then, but his sons have continued to coach.   Many of the players attend Gloucester Catholic High School, but others come from neighboring communities. The team has won thirty-one state championships, including in 2023. However, it is the period from 2011 to 2015 that many consider Brooklawn’s golden age. Playing against the top teams in the United States, Brooklawn established American Legion World Series history by making five straight appearances from 2011 to 2015, including three straight title game appearances and became the fifth back-to-back World Series champion in 2013 and 2014.

 

Assistant coach, Steve Mondile, a pitcher on the team  in the 1980s  and who was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles, calls the experience one of the highlights of his life. “If we didn’t have a game, we practiced. Every single day. Back then, I didn’t even know Jersey had beaches.” 

 

 His son, Tyler, pitched during the golden age. Drafted by the Cincinnati Reds, Tyler speaks
about the Brooklawn team and the lifelong friends he’s made in language more commonly associated with a spiritual experience, as if Pop Barth Field is a cathedral with basepaths. 

Screenshot 2024-04-29 at 22.43.49
Brooklawn Coach Dennis Barth
photo credit CNBNews

From the golden age teams. Mike Shawaryn  went on to pitch for the Boston Red Sox. Tre Todd was drafted by the Dodgers, and John Murphy plays in the Reds minor league systems. Their dreams and the dreams of hundreds of other young men on this franchise have come true. 

 

There is a baseball gene in the Barth family. Head coach  Dennis Barth said  “When I grew up, if we didn’t make it to the World Series, our family vacation was at the Legion World Series. My father and my brothers and I would watch the games and try to figure who we thought was going to win every year that we weren’t there.”  Barth, who has coached at Gloucester Catholic and Rutgers in Camden, wants to pass the torch of baseball passion that was handed to him by his father on to his players. His brothers Joe and Bob (deceased) have also coached the team, and nephew Bryan Barth is an assistant coach.

 

There is a rising wind and it has started to snow. I decide to leave. As I enter my car, a silver Honda CRV pulls up and parks. Three young men get out of the car. One is wearing a Gloucester Catholic High jacket. He is carrying a bat. The other two are carrying gloves and balls. They begin to work out.

 

 I think Pop Barth must be very happy in baseball heaven.

 

Related: 

REST IN PEACE COACH BARTH

American Legion Baseball Legend Joe "Pop" Barth Succumbs at the age of 92

Helen "Mom" Barth Succumbs, Owner of Barth Taxes, First Lady of Brooklawn Legion Baseball

BILLS POINT OF VIEW: Congratulations Joe ; and A Friend in Need

 

 

 

 

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