EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Sports

August 4, 2013

The thrill of victory and the agony of ...

Two stars from the Andover team that went to Williamsport in 1988 learned life's painful lessons soon afterward

Quite frankly, the Andover Nationals couldn’t have done it without them.

While they were technically 12-year-old boys, Ricky Saggese and Toby Guzowski McGrath, they played like men. They threw the ball faster (both were lefties, too) and they hit the ball harder than almost every Little Leaguer within 30 miles of here.

The yellow brick road the Andover Nationals walked — the districts, sectionals, states, East Regionals and eventually Williamsport, Pa. — almost always had Saggese and Guzowski McGrath leading the way.

“You need two superstars to make some noise the entire way,” said manager Jim Arnold then and now. “We had two of the best in Ricky and Toby.”

When they got home, particularly at the parade after the bus arrived from Williamsport, they were treated like rock stars.

“It still is the most incredible experience of my life,” said Saggese, now 37, and living in Naples with his wife, Lisa.

Guzowski McGrath concurred, “It was amazing, all of it ... What we did, together, will never be forgotten ... We were all on top of the world.”

The Norman Rockwell-esque story and pictures ended soon after for the two Andover stars and tragedy trumped baseball.

Within a year after the Williamsport journey, Guzowski’s mother, Ann McGrath Guzowski, was stricken with cancer and eventually died.

Less than three years later, Toby’s father, Dick, died after suffering a heart attack. Both his parents were gone when he was 16.

Saggese, whose family moved to Florida a year after the Williamsport trip, lost his dad, Rick Sr., to a freak accident while throwing batting practice to some of his teammates before a game. He took a line drive off his temple. Minutes later an aneurysm burst and he was dead on the field. Ricky was 15 years old.

“It took a long time to get over it,” said Saggese. “He was my best friend.”

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