Two years ago, the Jackie Robinson Little League 18-and-under All-Star team won the Major League Baseball RBI (Rebuilding Baseball in the Inner-City) World Series championship in Minneapolis.
So when head coach Ron Hayward, the head baseball coach and athletic director at Marist High School, took the Robinson All-Stars back to the RBI World Series last week, this time in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, he had a little bit of experience to go on.
But that didn’t mean the task was any easier.
“I think it was harder for this team to gel,” Hayward said. “When we got to Texas, we still had some trust issues. There was too much talent on the team and there were some big-timers.”
When the Jersey City-based team lost the second game of the tournament to Philadelphia, the Robinson Mets were facing elimination and an early trip back to New Jersey.
“I think that’s when they bought in and started to play together,” Hayward said. “The kids all came to an understanding. That’s when they started looking for guidance and started winning.”
In the third game of the tournament, the Mets trailed the team representing the Cleveland Indians, 5-4, in the bottom of the seventh inning, again facing elimination. But they rallied to win and kept the hopes alive.
They finally advanced to the title game Monday against the team representing the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and won by a final score of 7-4, bringing home the Larry Doby Trophy as the RBI World Series champs for the second time in three years.
The championship game was played at the Ballpark in Arlington, the home of the Texas Rangers. While at the stadium, the Mets got to meet some of the Texas Rangers, including manager Ron Washington, announcer Mark McLemore and future Hall of Fame catcher Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez.
Mark Venice of Bayonne, who attended Seton Hall Prep and is now headed to St. John’s University, was the recipient of the RBI World Series Most Valuable Player award.
“He was just amazing for the entire tournament,” Hayward said of Venice. “It was great for the kids, because they got a chance to showcase themselves on a national level. I think it only helps this area, letting people know what great talent we have in this area. This tournament is really a blessing and to win again is just amazing.”
Josh Witherspoon, who played for Hayward at Marist and is now headed to the University of South Florida on a scholarship, was a member of the World Series champs for a second time. Not a bad thrill for a kid from Jersey City.
“He deserves it,” Hayward said. “He’s been through a lot. It was a chance for us to be together one last time. It’s a great memory for me and for him.”
Matt Littrell (Monmouth) and Angel Perez (St. Peter’s) were both on the RBI World Series champs as well after playing for Hayward at Marist. Littrell was the Hudson Reporter Most Valuable Player for 2014.
Brandon Hansen, Elijah Hernandez and A.J. Candelario are three other Royal Knight products who were members of the World Series winners.
“It was a great experience for our kids,” Hayward said. “They got flown in to Dallas, had car and bus service everywhere and had three meals a day. They took a tour of Cowboys Stadium while there and got a chance to play on the field where the Texas Rangers play.”
Not to mention, they were led onto the field and honored before the Rangers played the Tampa Bay Rays Monday night. It was a memory of a lifetime.
“It really was amazing,” said Hayward, who enjoyed the week with his 14-year-old son, Elliott, who served as an honorary coach. Elliott Hayward is an aspiring baseball player who has recently received an invite to try out for the Team USA U14 squad.
Not a bad way to spend a vacation, winning another RBI World Series title and sharing it with your son.
The Jackie Robinson Mets 15-and-under team, coached by Dickinson head coach Danny Suarez, went 1-3 in their version of the World Series in Dallas, eventually losing to St. Louis in the knockout round. Still, it wasn’t a bad showing for the local kids who had a chance to make memories to last a lifetime…
The Hoboken Shockers softball team went to the RBI World Series this week and we’ll have an update on their progress next week…
Finally, in last week’s editions of EXTRA INNINGS, we featured Hoboken card and memorabilia collector Leighton Sheldon and his JustCollect.com company that has taken off.
In the feature, it was erroneously reported that Sheldon had a Masters’ degree from Rutgers, that he worked for Johnson & Johnson after college and that he put the bleacher seat he got from the 1996 World Series up for sale. We regret the errors and apologize for any inconvenience it may have caused…
EXTRA INNINGS focuses on the best stories that come from local baseball and softball leagues throughout the area, from Little League action through travel leagues.
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 St., 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.