Something special will be missing when the Senior Little League’s Eastern Regional baseball tournament begins Thursday at Union Field in West Deptford.
For better than 25 years, Dan Finocchi was the heart and soul of the double-elimination event. The West Deptford Little League complex was its home and the longtime resident made sure it was a memorable experience for everyone involved.
He did a little bit of everything, which in reality proved to be a full plate every day … and then some.
Sadly, Finocchi passed away on May 30. A father and grandfather, he was married to his wife, Clarice, for 48 years. Finocchi was 68.
“Dan was everything to this tournament; the ringleader of this circus,” said West Deptford Little League president Jim DePrince, who noted that Finocchi was nicknamed “The Godfather” by those around the organization.
“Dan treated this like it was Major League Baseball. He always wanted the best baseballs, the best of everything. … It was important to him to give the kids the feeling they were playing in front of 30,000 even if there were only 50 people in the stands.”
Finocchi was part of the original organizing committee, working in conjunction with District 15 Little League legend H. Taylor Bell to bring the tournament to West Deptford in 1991. This year’s tournament committee will recognize all that Finocchi brought to the event in a ceremony prior to West Deptford’s first game Friday night.
“What he meant to the West Deptford Little League? … Dan was the West Deptford Little League,” said coach Mike Yates, whose team will play its first game against the Connecticut state champion.
“It’s a huge loss. You really don’t know all he did until he’s not here. Just preparing for the Little League tournament, all of the pieces he put together. It takes more than one guy to do exactly all that he did and he did it seamlessly.”
“The amount of work that he did … It’s going to take five, six, seven people just to do what he did,” said tournament communications director Bill Gore.
“Everything he did was for the Little League and the kids of West Deptford. Everything.”
Said to be loyal and selfless, one who dedicated his life to his family, Finocchi also dedicated a good part of his free time to his community. He devoted better than four decades to serving West Deptford, especially its baseball program.
You couldn’t talk about the West Deptford Little League without mentioning Dan Finocchi.
“There’s nothing he didn’t do,” DePrince said. “He put in countless hours.
“He loved baseball. He loved the atmosphere. He enjoyed being with the kids, got excited when they won. People have their thing and this was his thing.”
This is the 27th consecutive year West Deptford has hosted the event, which will send its winner to the Senior League World Series in Beasley, South Carolina. Ten teams will compete for the regional crown, with West Deptford earning its berth as the host and East Vineland representing New Jersey as its state champion.
Other teams include Brewer, Maine; Edgewood, Connecticut; Southboro, Massachusetts; Johnston, Rhode Island; Throngs Neck, New York; Pennridge, Pennsylvania; Naamans, Delaware and Berlin, Maryland.
South Vineland is the last South Jersey team to win the Eastern Regional, picking up the second of back-to-back titles in 2010. North Cumberland won in 2008, going on to claim the World Series championship.
Roberto Clemente Little League of Newark won the first tournament played at West Deptford.
“It’s a rewarding feeling at the end of the day,” DePrince said. “No one understands that feeling unless you’re in it. It’s not always about dollars and sense. Sometimes it just comes down to what you can do to help a kid.
“For Dan, this was their big league; this was their shot at the big time. He respected every aspect of the game and it meant a lot.”