Brian Cardino has always been a very active coach when it comes to local youth baseball. The Hoboken resident and Hudson Catholic High School assistant coach has spent his recent summers working with several different youth baseball teams.
When Jersey City Recreation assistant director and baseball guru Ed "The Faa" Ford asked Cardino to coach a team of players, ages 16 and under, assembled from both the Pershing Field Babe Ruth League and the former Jersey City COBRA baseball programs, in a tournament in Delaware, Cardino was at first a little leery.
After all, the team was just being assembled to participate in the tourney, called the Sports at the Beach Classic at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. The team didn't play any regularly scheduled games. They only had a few weeks to prepare. The team was assembled by Pershing Field's Joe Napolitano and Ford, but there wasn't a regular league for the team to play in.
"It was basically a start-up team," Cardino said. "I know Joe Napolitano wanted to start a traveling baseball team. But this team was thrown together about a month ago. I was a little skeptical, but Mr. Ford asked me to help coach, and I basically did it as a favor to him."
Cardino said that the 17-member team had three weeks of solid practice and intra-squad scrimmages to get ready for the seven-team round-robin tournament, featuring teams from all over the East Coast.
"We didn't play a game against another team, but we practiced together, sometimes going as much as four hours," Cardino said. "I was able to get an idea of what we had. The hardest part was trying to evaluate the talent in such a short period of time. But by the time it came for us to leave for the tournament, I knew I had a good group of kids who really meshed together very well."
Added Cardino, "You have two groups of kids from two totally separated factions binding together and forming one team. It's really been something to see."
The Generals, the team's nickname, has been doing pretty well at the Delaware tournament, winning three out of five games since Sunday. They have moved to within one win of qualifying for the championship round.
The Generals were scheduled to play their final game in the round robin tournament Thursday morning against the Delaware Titans. A victory would have elevated the Generals into the title round.
While the tournament features players ages 16 and under, Cardino's Generals only have two 16-year-old players, namely Hudson Catholic standout Chris Lugo and Hudson County Prep's Alberto Medina, on the roster.
"If we want to, we can come down again next year and play with the same team," Cardino said.
Lugo, the two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area performer, has been the General's top pitcher and plays second base when not on the mound. He's batting .588 for the tourney (10-for-17) with five RBI.
Medina, a major cog in the County Prep team that captured the HCIAA Seglio Division championship last spring, has also been a pitcher/infielder for the Generals. Medina is batting .500 for the tournament with four RBI.
The team features two catchers, Alex Mena of Hudson Catholic, and 13-year-old Francisco Ramirez, the mainstay of the Jersey City Diamond Dawgs team that just finished second at the Dale Murphy World Series in Michigan last week. Ramirez will head to County Prep in the fall.
Adrian Inhulsen, who was a freshman at Hoboken High School last year, plays first base. Rubiel Mercado of Hudson Catholic, who is also one of the Generals' pitchers, shares second base duties with Lugo. Rob Del Fino of County Prep is the shortstop who has been blistering the ball in the tourney, batting an even .600 with six RBI.
Henry Nunez of Dickinson plays third base. The outfield duties are shared by players like Rich Nazario and Mark Roarty (eight-for-15, .533 in the tourney) of Hudson Catholic, Jon Santana of Dickinson and Anderson Minyetti of County Prep.
Eddie Rosado of St. Mary's (team-high seven RBI) is the designated hitter. Key reserves include Israel Rodriguez of Hudson Catholic, Alex Cotto of Ferris and Miguel Villa Fane of County Prep.
The assistant coaches are Charlie Rozzi, the director of recreation in Hoboken, Mike DePinto and Josh Ronga.
The Generals have already defeated the Iron Area Baseball Club of Sussex County, N.J., the East Coast Explosion of Wilmington, Del., and the New Jersey Blue Devils of Manalapan.
"This team has been thrown together, but they've done really well," Cardino said. "I've been both pleased and surprised with how well they've done."
And while coaching the Generals wasn't even a blip on the radar screen a month ago, the experience has been so positive that Cardino is already making plans for next year.
"Most definitely, I believe this can be a regular thing," Cardino said.
Just add another team to his already busy coaching schedule.
The EXTRA INNINGS feature runs weekly throughout the summer months, featuring local baseball and softball teams outside of the high school season. If you have any noteworthy information to contribute to the EXTRA INNINGS, feel free to contact Jim Hague by voice mail at 201-798-7800, ext. 751, by general mail at 1400 Washington Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030, or via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com. Please include a telephone contact name and number, in order to secure further information for a possible story. - Jim Hague