Rob Bianco is a long-time coach in North Bergen, coaching basketball and baseball, but he never felt pressure like he did when he took over the coaching reins of the North Bergen 14-year-old Babe Ruth All-Stars.
“To be honest with you, I was a little intimidated,” Bianco said.
Imagine an adult being intimidated by a bunch of teenagers?
“Well, these kids have won all throughout the last few years,” Bianco said. “I felt that because of that, we should win again and it would be very disappointing if we didn’t. If we didn’t win, then I didn’t do my job.”
Bianco had a point. Most of the kids on his team have been part of championship teams for the last five years, including a memorable trip as Little Leaguers two summers ago, culminating in the first-ever North Bergen trip to the New Jersey Little League state championships. So these kids have practically become accustomed to winning every single summer.
But this team, which played in the District 6 tournament recently, was a little different. Four kids went on to play for different AAU and travel teams in Bergen County, leaving their North Bergen roots.
“It gave a few kids who didn’t have a chance to play a big role last year to have a bigger role this time,” Bianco said. “That’s what was good about this team. There were some differences than the others.”
However, the results remained the same. The North Bergen 14-year-old Babe Ruth All-Stars won the District 6 title last week, defeating Greenville/West Side in the title game, 12-9.
North Bergen will now move on to play in the 14-year-old Babe Ruth state championships later this month in Raritan.
Bianco liked the way his team bounced back from adversity to claim yet another championship.
“We were down, 4-0, in the first inning and came back to win,” Bianco said. “The kids just kept fighting and wouldn’t give up. I think it helped that they’ve always been around winning.”
Bianco said that perhaps the biggest difference with this team opposed to those in years past is the pitching staff.
“Most of the pitchers are newcomers and we really don’t have an established No. 1 starter,” Bianco said. “We just keep switching pitchers and they don’t mind, because they’re all kind of even.”
Nick Flores and Jose Roman are holdovers from some of the past pitching staffs, but David Baiza, Mario Diaz and Ebrial Suarez are all newcomers.
When you have five kids that have the ability to pitch, it makes an All-Star team that much tougher to defeat.
“These kids have really stepped up as we use them like piecemeal,” Bianco said. “One pitches here, the other pitches there.”
The catcher is returnee Anthony Dabal, the gritty, hard-nosed younger brother of former North Bergen High School wrestling champion Bobby Dabal. The younger Dabal is a veteran of all the prior championship teams.
Flores, a lefty, and Baiza share the duties at first base, with two newcomers, Suarez and Elvis Betances, sharing the duties at second base. Slick-fielding Felix Pimentel is the shortstop, with Brian Guerrero, another returnee, manning third.
Manny Dominguez, another holdover, holds the fort in left field, with P.J. Cardone in centerfield and newcomer Ricky Valdes in right.
Bianco has received assistance from coaches Pokey Cardone, Jason Castillo, Chris Mena, Randy Singh and Ron Zarza.
The 14-year-old All-Stars will keep in top playing condition before the state tournament by participating in the Hudson County Sandy Koufax League. The team currently has a 9-2 record in that league as well, so Bianco is definitely staying busy coaching these talented youngsters, the future of North Bergen High School baseball, for the coming months.
“They play well together and already have good baseball habits,” Bianco said. “They’re a good group of kids.”
Not to mention, a winning group as well…
The Union City Cal Ripken 12-year-old All-Stars won the city’s first-ever District 6 championship last week, defeating Greenville American, 14-3, in the title game.
It means that Union City earns a berth in the Cal Ripken state championships later this month in South Amboy.
Congrats to hard-working good baseball people like league president Richie Cassens and coach Guy McCann, two guys who have had tireless efforts over the years teaching and coaching youngsters.
We’ll have more on the Union City champs next week. It’s a remarkable story, because Union City almost didn’t have youth baseball a few years ago and now, they have a championship baseball team…
Major League Baseball’s RBI (Restoring Baseball in the Inner-City) program is definitely paying major dividends locally, because the Hudson County RBI League is allowing high school kids to play baseball through the summer months for the first time since the demise of the old Build Better Boys Baseball (4B) League over a decade ago.
We’ll have more on the RBI League in the coming weeks here in the EXTRA INNINGS feature…
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 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 Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.