After the Jersey City/Pershing Field Yankees 18-and-under team lost in the finals of Major League Baseball’s RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner-Cities) Northeast Regional to a team from Greater New York in Yankee Stadium last week, head coach Alberto Vasquez was convinced that the season was over.
His team lost a heartbreaker in the bottom of the seventh inning, a loss that was sending the Greater New York team to the RBI World Series in Minneapolis and Vasquez’s team back home to Jersey City.
“The kids were absolutely disappointed,” Vasquez said. “We played a good game and came up a little short. I told the kids to enjoy the rest of their summer. I wished them luck and told them to be safe. I also told them that I would give them a call to go over a few things in a few weeks, but after we lost, basically, that was it.”
However, it really wasn’t the end as Vasquez, the head coach at Hudson Catholic, thought.
Vasquez got a phone call from Jersey City RBI director “Smokin” Joe Napolitano Monday afternoon. Apparently, the Greater New York team was being disqualified from participating in the RBI World Series and the organizers wanted to know if the Jersey City/Pershing Field Yankees could go instead.
“When I first got the call, I told him, ‘OK, you can stop with the jokes now,’” Vasquez said. “He said, ‘No, I’m serious.’”
Napolitano asked Vasquez if he could round his team together and get them ready to head on an all-expenses paid trip to Minnesota – joining the Jersey City U15 team that was on the way to Minnesota as well.
“I said, ‘I can’t see why not,’ ” Vasquez said. “I figured that this would be like a vacation to most of the kids and that they would be willing to go.”
Vasquez called his team and found out that all but two were able to make the trip to Minneapolis.
“So we had one practice Monday night and we’re getting on the plane [Tuesday, leaving from LaGuardia Airport],” Vasquez said. “The kids are on Cloud Nine. They were eager and raring to go. I’m happy for them that they’re getting a chance to experience something they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”
Vasquez should know. When he was a youngster, Vasquez was part of the famed Jersey City Stars of Tomorrow program that won championships at practically every level and traveled the globe. Back then, Vasquez was a teammate of the current Jersey City U15 head coach Danny Suarez and the two became good friends from it.
“We won more of our fair share of tournaments back then,” Vasquez said. “It’s a tremendous advantage, knowing what it takes to win. I think I have the upper hand. I also had to do the same thing in college [when Vasquez was a catcher at Rutgers University]. Playing in these tournaments, there’s the same kind of atmosphere. I still remember my coaches from that Jersey City Stars of Tomorrow team and the huge impact they had on me. There’s been a trickledown effect. It’s part of the reason why we became coaches as well. We’re glad to give back some of the knowledge of the game that we learned.”
Vasquez believes he has the makings of a solid team that can compete in Minnesota, led by Weehawken’s left-handed ace pitcher Sal Mendez.
“He’s been great,” Vasquez said of Mendez, who will only be a junior at Weehawken High School in the fall, but already has Hudson Reporter All-Area honors to his credit.
“He’s a smart pitcher who knows how to pitch,” Vasquez said. “He learns hitters right away and knows what to throw to them. He’s very mature at a young age. He has a very bright future.”
Mendez is joined on the mound by Hudson Catholic product Randy Reyes, Hudson Catholic’s Danny Perez, and Steven Hart of St. Peter’s Prep.
It’s not a deep pitching staff, but it could be effective.
“We’re at a little disadvantage not having a lot of pitchers, but I think we can make noise with our four starters,” Vasquez said. “We can hold our own if we hit and play defense.”
The Jersey City catcher is Hudson Catholic rising junior Steve Price, who has spent the summer learning from his high school coach and a fellow catcher.
Price had a marvelous Northeast Regional tournament, collecting 11 hits in 15 at-bats, including two homers.
“In the beginning of the season, he wasn’t even our starter at Hudson Catholic,” Vasquez said. “But he just kept getting better as the year went on. It helps to have him learning from me, one catcher to another.”
The first baseman is Angel Colon of Ferris, with Mario Albunia, another Hudson Catholic product headed to Ramapo in the fall, playing second. The shortstop is former Union City All-Area performer Willy Taveras. At third base is fellow Union City product Jose Taveras, who is no relation to Willy.
Oscar Torres of Hudson Catholic mans left field with the talented Daryl Velez, a veteran of RBI World Series teams of the past and a product of Ferris, manning centerfield.
“Velez is one of the best players I’ve seen,” Vasquez said. “He’s the type of kid who you would pay money to watch.”
Another All-Area performer, Union City’s Yeudy Ventura, is the right fielder, with Hudson Catholic’s Rory Carvajal as the team’s designated hitter.
Vasquez likes that his team is filled with players from his own Hudson Catholic program.
“They know what to expect from me and know what to do,” Vasquez said. “It makes things easier. Having Price behind the plate is like having a coach on the field. He knows what pitches to call. He takes control out there.”
Jason Castillo and Jorge Gutierrez serve as Vasquez’s assistant coaches.
Vasquez knows that his team has received an unexpected new lease on life.
“That’s exactly what this is,” Vasquez said. “It’s a second chance. We have no pressure on us, no expectations. We were out, now we got back in. It could be the perfect end to a great story.”
Both Jersey City teams begin play in their respective age bracket World Series later this week. We’ll have updates in next week’s EXTRA INNINGS, as well as an update on the Hoboken Shockers softball team that went to the RBI Softball World Series.
EXTRA INNINGS focuses on the best stories that come from local baseball and softball leagues throughout the area.
If you have any noteworthy information to contribute to the EXTRA INNINGS, feel free to contact Jim Hague by phone at (201) 303-5792, by general mail at 1400 Washington Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030, or via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com.
The e-mail would be the best way of getting in touch.
Please include a telephone contact name and number, in order to secure further information for a possible story. Also, if you have a picture to be used with the story, that would be a great help….--Jim Hague Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.