Although he’s still a very young man who hasn’t reached his 30th birthday just yet, Danny Suarez is an experienced veteran when it comes to playing for and coaching highly competitive summer baseball teams.
After all, when Suarez was a youngster, he played for the Jersey City Stars of Tomorrow program that has now spawned a host of talented coaches like Ron Hayward of Marist and Alberto Vasquez of Hudson Catholic.
Those Jersey City teams would travel far and wide during the summer months. Together, they won a host of championships on the Sandy Koufax and Mickey Mantle AABC youth levels.
Now, Suarez has matured into being a fine coach in his own right, first at Hudson Catholic and later at Dickinson, where he remains.
Suarez has also spent his summer months in recent years coaching with the Jersey City/Pershing Field RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner-Cities) program. Suarez has done that for the last three summers.
“You get to see kids from all the different schools come together and build chemistry,” said Suarez, who completed his first season as the head coach at Dickinson this year. “You get a group of 15 players, all playing for one cause. It’s a great thing. I always have the memories of when I played, of getting a team together and making friends that last a lifetime. I love doing it and love seeing the kids come together.”
Suarez is the head coach of the Jersey City/Pershing Field Yankees that participated in the RBI Eastern Regional tournament at sites all over New York City over the weekend, culminating in the championship game Monday at Yankee Stadium.
It’s the third straight year that a Jersey City team played in the championship game at Yankee Stadium. In 2009, the first year of the new Yankee Stadium, there were two Jersey City teams facing off against teams from Boston with the right to move on to the RBI World Series. Last year, there were two Jersey City programs, one from Pershing Field and the other from the Jackie Robinson League, which faced off at Yankee Stadium.
So the RBI program has definitely had a local flavor over the last few years.
This year was no exception, as Suarez’s 15-and-under team faced a Greater New York team Monday and came away with a 4-3 victory.
The win enabled the Jersey City Yankees to secure a berth in the RBI World Series, which will take place next week in Minnesota with the championship game to be held at the new Target Field, the home of the Minnesota Twins.
“It’s really like a dream come true for a lot of these kids,” Suarez said. “It is for me as well. I still feel like a little kid, all excited about playing at Yankee Stadium. It’s a huge thrill for all of us. I wouldn’t change anything for the world.”
The Jersey City Yankees feature a talented and deep pitching staff, which will bode well for the team at the World Series.
Left-hander Ryan O’Connor, a student at St. Peter’s Prep, was the winning pitcher in the regional title game.
“He has very good mechanics and mixes up his pitches well,” Suarez said. “He’s done very well.”
Another pitcher is North Bergen’s A.J. Gale, who is part of the winning tradition North Bergen baseball has enjoyed over the last several summers. Gale was part of the group that won five straight championships at different levels and competed in the New Jersey State Little League championships in 2008.
Jimmy Rodriguez, the top young prospect from Memorial, is another pitcher on the squad. Rodriguez threw a no-hitter against Boston in the regional over the weekend.
Jancer Guzman is a lefty from Dickinson who defeated Providence over the weekend. Suarez is pleased with Guzman’s development and provides his high school team with hope for the future.
Anthony Sarmiento is another pitcher who attends St. Anthony. He’s the youngest player on the team at age 14.
“Because he’s the youngest, we call him ‘Diapers,’ ” Suarez laughed. “But he’s the reason why we’re going to the World Series, because we were losing to Harlem, 8-3, and he came in and shut them out for four innings and enabled us to come back and win.”
The catcher is Jose Moreno from Marist. Slugger James Rangel, another of that winning North Bergen contingent, is the first baseman. Ben Sierra, also of Marist, is the second baseman, with T.J. Ward of St. Peter’s Prep, holding his own as the shortstop.
“He’s like our Derek Jeter,” Suarez said of Ward. “I call him ‘Captain’ because he’s like Jeter.”
Jeremy Cerda, another member of that winning North Bergen connection, is the third baseman, with the final North Bergen member, P.J. Cardone, manning left field.
“It really helps having those North Bergen kids, because they all have such amazing experience and they’re all winners,” Suarez said. “If we face adversity, we have kids who have been through it all already. They know how to pick each other up. That really helps us out a lot.”
The centerfielder is Angel Perez of Marist and the right fielder is Jancer Guzman, when he’s not pitching. Matt Halchak (St. Peter’s Prep), Willie Quinones (Union City) and Lenny Guzman (Dickinson) round out the roster.
Former Hoboken and St. Peter’s College standout Josh Piniero serves as an assistant coach, along with Rob Duffy and Jay Aguilar.
Suarez likes his team’s chances to do well in Minnesota.
“Because I’ve coached teams in this tournament before, I feel confident and more comfortable this time,” Suarez said. “I can prepare the team the right way for World Series tournament play. I know what to expect. If we go out and play baseball the right way, we have a good shot.”
Unfortunately, the Jersey City Yankees U-18 team didn’t fare as well in the regional title game at Yankee Stadium, falling to Greater New York as well in the final inning, or there would have been two Jersey City teams invading Minnesota next week.
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