Editor’s note: In this unprecedented, unexpected time with no games to watch, our staff of five reminisces about the best individual performances by one athlete they’ve covered during their time as News-Post sports reporters.
I’d seen a few no-hitters before, but never baseball’s royal gem — a perfect game. All of that changed on August 12, 1986.
Brunswick Little League’s all-star team (there was only one division back then) had won the state tournament and was playing its first game in the Eastern Regionals at Newburgh, New York. I was assigned to cover Brunswick at what was then a single-elimination tournament.
Brunswick’s top pitcher, Joey Lucas, got the nod to start against Bennington, Vermont, in the first game. He had done extremely well in the previous levels of tournament play, but I wasn’t sure his domination on the mound would hold up against this New England team.
Lucas didn’t miss a beat. Behind his patented fastball, he became the first pitcher in the history of Brunswick Little League to pitch a perfect game in a 17-0 rout of Bennington.
“Man, that was a long time ago,” Lucas, now 46, said, trying to recall that day in 1986. “We had a pretty good team back then, that’s for sure.”
Brunswick would’ve easily defeated Bennington even if Lucas had given up a few hits here and there, but he treated this opponent as if the game were close, as if he were facing a lineup of power hitters.
His approach to the game?
“I didn’t want to put a lot of pressure on myself, so I treated this game as just another baseball game,” Lucas told me after that landmark effort in 1986. “I still knew what it meant [the perfect game], and it’s a good feeling.”
Lucas was completely cool on the mound, in charge from start to finish. He struck out 10, and only one ball was hit out of the infield against him.
Even as Brunswick racked up runs, Lucas maintained his intensity on the mound. As the game progressed, with Bennington going three-up, three-down each inning, reality began to set in for Lucas.
“In the back of my mind, as we got into the middle innings, I probably realized I was working on a perfect game,” Lucas recalled. “But we had such a strong team, with a lot of good hitters. I was pretty relaxed the whole time.”
Then came the sixth inning — another 1-2-3 effort for Lucas.
When Bennington’s final batter, Kyle Maroney, was called out on strikes, everything went wild in the Brunswick bleachers and on the field. In fact, fans in both sets of bleachers gave Lucas a standing ovation.
Rob Dawson, who managed Brunswick’s team that year, knew to keep things quiet as the game wore on with the perfecto intact.
“The momentum just kept building,” Dawson recalled. “We were scoring runs. Joey was throwing strikes. He was just so overpowering.”
Tournament officials presented Lucas with the game ball. He was surrounded by his teammates, family and friends.
I thought I’d seen Lucas’ best stuff at this tournament. I was wrong.
Lucas got his second regional start two days later, and he hadn’t lost his touch. He hurled a no-hitter against Warwick, Rhode Island, 5-0. Brunswick went on to win the regional championship on Saturday, Aug. 16, defeating Ozone Howard Little League, of New York City (Queens), 9-3.
Brunswick had punched its ticket to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Lucas didn’t fare so well there, losing to Sarasota, Florida, in the the first game, 5-0.
In a bit of irony, Sarasota’s Phil Olson pitched a no-hitter, but his bid for a perfect game was spoiled when he walked Lucas late in the game.
I couldn’t stay for the consolation rounds, so I missed Lucas’ final Little League appearance, where he pitched yet another no-hitter, blanking Europe 8-0 behind 15 strikeouts.
Lucas said he stays in touch with his teammates from that 1986 team, but he was unable to attend the special enshrinement of the 1986 team at the Brunswick Heritage Museum last fall.
“I’m sorry I had to miss it,” Lucas said. “We were a very close-knit group who had a lot of fun together as a team.”
This look back makes me glad I made that 286-mile, 4½-hour trek to New York in 1986.
I stayed about a week. It was a pretty great trip. In fact, part of it was perfect.