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Baseball: Those were the days, with the Knights

To some, the Knights may have represented the best days of their lives.

The mere mention of that old baseball team known as the East End Knights — some called them the Mattituck Knights — is liable to bring a smile to the face of a former player.

The Knights were the brainchild of Martin Garrell, a former Suffolk Times sports editor who had seen good baseball talent drift away to slow-pitch softball in the summer months. So, he set up the Knights in 1981. Money was raised, posters were put up and uniforms were obtained. “Suddenly, come end of June, you got a baseball team,” he said.

And what a team it was. The Knights were, in essence, an East End all-star team, with top collegiate and high school players plucked from both forks of eastern Long Island. The team had no age restrictions, so there were older players as well.

“We had all the best players on the East End,” said Anthony Eaderesto, a Mercy High School product who caught for the Knights the entirety of their existence.

Newsday high school sports editor Gregg Sarra, who played rightfield for the rival Runyon’s Yankees, said the Knights were one of the greatest Stan Musial League teams of all time and could hit with anyone.

“I would say that the Knights could play very well in almost any of the collegiate leagues at their best,” said Garrell, an outdoors columnist for Times Review Media Group who was himself a third-string catcher for Princeton (1956-60). “The caliber of baseball, I would say, was maybe [Single-]A ball.”

Garrell became the team’s general manager, manager and occasional catcher. The Knights played in the Suffolk County Stan Musial Baseball League, which was presided over by Joe Pepitone (no, not that Joe Pepitone of New York Yankees fame).

At first, the Knights played their home games at Mattituck High School before heading to the field on Aldrich Lane in Laurel, where new lights had been installed in the mid-1980s.

“It was one lane all the way out there,” Sarra recalled. “It took forever to get there. Then, when you get there, there’s this field of dreams in the middle of nowhere. The guys loved it. It was kind of cool.”

Opponents knew they would be in for a game when they faced the Knights, who over the years had players like brothers Chris and Jim Finnican out of Mattituck High School. Another player from Mattituck, Keith Locklear, went on to play professionally. The Knights also trotted out top college players like Johnny Lee (Brown University), Tommy Moore (Cortland State), Brian Casazza (Princeton), Mark Carlozzi (Duke) and Andy Taylor (Adelphi), who was drafted by the Mets before going into the St. Louis Cardinals organization, reaching as high as Double-A.

“You knew when you went out there that you were going to be in a slugfest with a bunch of farm boys who could hit,” said Sarra, who was a replacement player with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1994.

And then there was pitcher Chris Kent, a righthander from NCAA Division II St. Michael’s College (Vt.) with an evasive slider that could be nearly unhittable. Kent, who later became a Riverhead town councilman, joined the Knights in 1982 and recalls sitting on the bench for a while before Garrell finally threw him in a game. Apparently, Garrell had no regrets. Kent doesn’t recall allowing a run that season.

On a side note, Kent, 58, recently completed his 50th (yes, that’s right, 50th) season as a baseball player. These days he pitches for a 45-and-older team, the Suffolk Phillies. And, yes, he still throws that slider. “I still throw the same stuff I did then, just not as hard,” he said.

By Garrell’s count, six Knights went on to play pro ball, most of them with independent teams.

The Knights wore several uniform styles over the years, beginning with white pants and pale blue shirts with black lettering. One of their final uniforms was white with yellow and black trim and lettering, sort of like those worn by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Knights never won a league title, but finished second a couple of times and represented the league in various tournaments, said Garrell. They went head to head against powerful teams like Runyon’s Yankees, the Long Island Dodgers and the Sachem As, who had a player named Craig Biggio. Biggio went on to become one of the greatest players the Houston Astros have ever had. Former Shoreham-Wading River High School player Keith Osik, who spent seven of his 10 years in the majors catching for the Pirates, played for Runyon’s Yankees.

“That was the golden era of baseball on Long Island,” said Sarra.

As eventually happens to all athletes, real life intruded on their fun and games. Players have families, other commitments and it’s time to put away the bat and glove.

It happened to Garrell when he had a choice to make between going on a planned trip to Nova Scotia with his wife, Janet, or the northeast regionals with the Knights. It wasn’t much of a choice.

“Jan’s ultimatum was, ‘You go to that tournament and I won’t be here when you get back,’ ” he said. “I went to Nova Scotia.”

The Knights turned out the lights in the early 1990s, but they left players with lasting friendships and memories.

“It was a great time in our lives for all of us,” Eaderesto said. “It was something that we will never forget.”

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Photo caption: Jerry Markowski of the East End Knights racing to first baseball during a Stan Musial League game in Mattituck in 1982. (Credit: file photo)