After being selected by the Texas Rangers in the 40th round of the Major League Baseball Free Agent Amateur Draft last month, Weehawken’s Sal Mendez weighed all of his options. He could accept a scholarship to Howard Junior College in Texas or sign the contract offered by the Rangers.
The talented left-handed pitcher chose the latter and signed a professional contract with the Rangers last Saturday, fulfilling a lifelong dream. Mendez became the first Weehawken product to sign after being drafted since the MLB Draft began in 1965.
“It’s really quite a thrill and an honor,” said Mendez, who left for Rookie baseball in Arizona Tuesday. “It’s something I’ve been working for since I was a little boy. In school, other kids dreamed of being an astronaut or a ballerina. I always said that I would be a baseball player and I finally did that.”
Mendez has not thrown a baseball since the last weekend in May, when he felt a twinge in his elbow in the Hudson County Tournament finale against St. Peter’s Prep. He’s been resting and rehabilitating the elbow without having surgery, something that the Texas medical staff applauded.
“I saw the Rangers’ team doctor in Arlington last week,” Mendez said. “He said that I’m always going to have some problem with the elbow, but he didn’t think I needed surgery. He said everything looks just fine.”
So Mendez will head to Surprise, Arizona at the Rangers’ spring training home and more than likely he’ll be ready to pitch in September in the Rangers’ instructional league.
“I haven’t even picked up a baseball since that game,” Mendez said. “But I’ve been told I’m on the right track. I just have to follow the same routine and I’ll be fine to throw some bullpen [sessions] and then the instructional league.”
It’s safe to say that Mendez is living the dream…
For years, the best summer baseball has been played in West New York. This summer is like no other, as a group of 15-year-olds from West New York have laid claim to two championships and will head to Arizona next month to compete for a national title.
Veteran coach Lou Nagurka has assembled an outstanding team, one that won the District 6 Babe Ruth 15-year-old championship and the New Jersey Youth Baseball championship.
“It’s kind of hard to play both at the same time, because of the pitching limits,” Nagurka said. “But it worked out fine. One tournament ended last week and we started up the other. We won District 6 on Wednesday, then played Friday, Saturday and Sunday in the NJYB tournament. It was a lot of games for them, but they came out of it fine.”
West New York will now head to the Babe Ruth state tournament that begins Thursday at Secaucus’ Kane Stadium.
Since they won the NJYB Tournament, the kids from West New York are eligible to go to the nationals in Arizona next month.
“The kids are very excited about that,” Nagurka said. “Some of them have never been on a plane before. It’s a very good group of 15-year-olds, one of the best groups we’ve ever had.”
Nagurka can call upon three different pitchers, namely Jose Baez, Gregory Cuevas and Lazaro Lopez.
“Baez is our top pitcher,” Nagurka said. “Lopez has a very bright future. He’s just in eighth grade. This has been a good experience for him.”
The catcher is Brandon Saurborn, who is already a freshman at Bergen Catholic.
“He’s a very good catcher,” Nagurka said. “If we need him, he also pitches.”
Derek Fernandez, a Memorial player, is the first baseman, with Danny De La Rosa at second. Cuevas and Lopez share shortstop duties depending upon who is pitching. Orlando Rodriguez, another Memorial product, is the third baseman.
Roldan Gil is in left field, with Sito Martinez in center and Albert Munoz in right. Both Martinez and Munoz are just eighth graders.
Kevin Mojica is a reserve pitcher/outfielder and Carlos Inoa is a backup first baseman and pitcher.
Needless to say, Nagurka likes his team, considering they won two different championships in the span of a week.
“These kids just love playing,” Nagurka said. “They’re out there practicing in 97 degree temperatures and think nothing of it. They played a doubleheader in the heat on Sunday. They just want to keep playing and they look forward to the next challenge.”…
Last week, we featured two highly touted Union City football players who are being recruited by major college football programs. This week, it has been reported that one of those featured, lineman Steven Gonzalez, has now been ranked among the top 100 linemen in the country. Gonzalez owns the No. 81 rank in the entire land…
In closing, we offer the deepest sympathies to the great Weber family of Jersey City, who lost their patriarch, Ray, Sr. last week. Ray Weber, Sr. was a great three-sport athlete in his days at Dickinson. His two sons, Ray, Jr. and David, went on to become standout pitchers during their high school days at St. Anthony and Marist, with David eventually getting drafted by the Chicago Cubs.
Both Ray, Jr. and David became members of the Jersey City Police Department, becoming public servants like their father, who spent nearly 30 years on the Jersey City Fire Department.
Ray Weber, Sr. was a very instrumental figure in the formation of the famed Jersey City Stars of Tomorrow baseball program. It’s a huge loss and to wife Diane, sons and daughter, Lauren, nothing but prayers and positive thoughts as they go through this trying time. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.