Miguel “Mike” Briganty was born in Cuba and moved to West New York with his family when he was seven years old in 1961.
“We had a cousin who was a pastor at a church in West New York,” Briganty said. “It was extremely scary for me then, because I didn’t know the language and didn’t know many people. I was moving into a neighborhood with Polish people, Italians. The Cubans were very few.”
But Briganty soon found a safe haven, namely sports.
“It was a big melting pot of kids in the neighborhood,” Briganty said. “We were carefree. We would all become friends. It didn’t matter what background we came from. We were friends. It was great to be a kid in West New York. It really had a home feeling. It made it great growing up.”
When Briganty was nine years old, his father signed him up to play Little League baseball.
“The first team I played for, the Knights of Columbus,” Briganty recalled. “That gave me such a great opportunity to play organized baseball. I had such respect for the game. It was a great building block for the rest of my life.”
And the cathedral for West New York baseball appeared right outside his front window.
“I lived on the same street as Miller Stadium,” Briganty said. “Right on the foul line of Miller Stadium. Once I got home from school, I went right to the park.”
In 1966, when Briganty was 12 years old, he had no idea that he was about to make history.
“Three kids from my team, Ike Alonso, John Bruno and myself, were picked to play on the Little League All-Star team,” Briganty said. “We had no idea what was in store for us.”
The team was coached by legendary Little League instructor Rollie Sabatini.
“Coach Sabatini always wanted everyone’s attention,” Briganty said. “He was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He wanted us to be prepared if the ball was hit to you. He wanted us to be prepared every single play. He was constantly teaching us fundamentals, like hitting the cutoff man and trying to turn double plays. He wanted us to back up throws. We were so fundamentally sound.”
When the postseason began, the West New York Little League All-Stars had one primary purpose.
“Our goal was to win the District 7 championship,” Briganty said. “It was very important to win the district. That was the main goal. We had no idea of anything else.”
And there was a name that popped up along the way: Williamsport, a town in central Pennsylvania.
“We didn’t even know where that was,” Briganty said. “I don’t even think it was in the back of our minds. We were just a bunch of rug rats from West New York. We didn’t know anything else.”
But after the WNY All-Stars won District 7, they then went on to win the Section 2 title and the New Jersey State Championship, moving on to the Little League’s East Region tourney. Sure enough, the WNY All-Stars won there as well, punching their ticket to the Little League World Series in Williamsport.
“It was the highlight of my life,” Briganty said. “I was never close to anything of that magnitude. Never in high school or college. Nothing compared to the Little League experience, being out there and having the whole town rooting for you. Everyone was out there with us. We had complete support. Still to this day, I’m going to be 65 years old, and I still talk about it. It still brings big chills down my spine.”
West New York advanced to the Little League World Series championship game that year, falling in the final to Houston, 8-2.
Briganty now works for the United States Postal Service as a clerk in Miami, where he has remained for the last 20 years. But recently, he decided to put his memories in a book.
“As I got older, I always enjoyed writing,” Briganty said. “It was always in the back of my mind to write something about that team and that year.”
With that, Briganty published “From Cuba to Williamsport: My Journey to Freedom,” available on Amazon.com.
“When I started putting things down on paper, I got the idea of my parents leaving Cuba and combine it with the Little League World Series,” Briganty said.
The book has pictures of Cuba as well as photos of the Little League All-Stars. It’s a well written, fun loving history book that floods back so many memories.
“Some of my teammates have read it and loved it,” Briganty said. “Someone said that I’m now the talk of West New York. Not everyone has a story like mine.”…
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The two county tournaments somehow danced through the raindrops and got to the semifinals. The baseball tournament will feature Bayonne against Hudson Catholic and St. Peter’s Prep facing Ferris. The softball tourney is also Bayonne against Hudson Catholic and Secaucus battling Weehawken, which has an amazing run in the tourney. We’ll have more on the county championship games in the next edition…
Hudson Reporter High School Baseball Top Five: 1. Bayonne (21-2). 2. St. Peter’s Prep (16-7). 3. Ferris (15-7). 4. Hoboken (16-1). 5. Hudson Catholic (14-4)…
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Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com