For the past decade or so, Jersey City has been one of the premier participants in Major League Baseball’s popular RBI (Rebuilding Baseball in the Inner Cities) summer program.
Jersey City has two prominent leagues in RBI, namely Pershing Field and Jackie Robinson.
Last weekend, Jackie Robinson got the better of the rivalry, winning both the 15-and-under and 18-and-under RBI Northeast Regional championships.
Both teams will now head to the RBI World Series, which will be played in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, beginning Aug. 6. The RBI World Series championship will be played in the Ballpark in Arlington, the home of the Texas Rangers.
The Jackie Robinson 15-and-under team was coached by Dickinson head coach Danny Suarez. They defeated Pershing Field, 6-3, on Sunday, on the campus of Long Island University in Brooklyn.
“I find coaching the younger kids exciting,” said Suarez, who has been involved with coaching summer baseball teams in Jersey City for a long time. “They have such a mentality, filled with eagerness. I’ve watched them grow as players and as persons in just a span of a few weeks. They have that energy and edge to get better and the competitiveness to learn.”
Suarez said that he knew he had a talented team that would do well in the tournament.
“I was confident going in that we were going to be the favorites,” Suarez said. “We had ability and experience. A lot of our kids have already done well on the varsity level, so that’s a big advantage for us.”
Suarez loves his pitching staff, which is headed by Corey Johnson, a right-hander from Bayonne and Bayonne High.
“He has pretty good life on his fastball,” Suarez said. “He also has a good curveball and change. He can throw every pitch for a strike. If he can continue to progress, he’s going to be a star and could become a [NCAA] Division I pitcher.”
Another pitcher is Julio Suarez III, the head coach’s second cousin. Suarez’s first cousin, Julio, Jr., is an assistant coach on the team, so it’s all in the family.
The younger Suarez plays for Danny at Dickinson.
“I really don’t look at him like he’s a family member,” Suarez said. “I treat him like any other player. It makes the transition easier.”
Jose Fontan is another right-handed pitcher who plays for Suarez at Dickinson.
“He’s a finesse pitcher who hits his spots well,” Suarez said. “He has a lot of varsity experience and has been in big-time situations.”
Adam Swift will be a freshman at Dickinson in the fall.
“He has a heavy fastball and keeps the ball down,” Suarez said. “He has a lot of potential and has a very bright future. He’s a big-game pitcher who has ice in his veins.”
Swift was the winning pitcher in the game against Pershing Field in the title game.
The catching duties are being shared by Modesto Sanchez, Jr., who plays for North Bergen, and Kevin Reynoso, who plays for Marist. Sanchez happens to be a cousin to Danny Suarez, so it’s definitely all in the family.
Jesse Matos, the big slugger for Marist last year as a sophomore, earning Hudson Reporter All-Area honors, is one of the first basemen on the team, along with Finn Hodgins of St. Peter’s Prep.
“Matos is my No. 4 hitter and Hodgins is No. 5,” Suarez said. “This seems to be too easy for Jesse. He hits the ball hard every time up. You can definitely see the separation between him and the rest of the players his age.”
Andrew Villicas of Marist is the second baseman, with Ryan Guthrie of Bayonne playing shortstop. Guthrie is the team’s leadoff hitter.
Dominick Rosales, the promising slugger from University Charter, is the team’s third baseman, with Corel Caddle, the younger brother of St. Peter’s Prep Hudson Reporter All-Area performer Corey, in left field.
“He’s phenomenal,” Suarez said of the younger Caddle. “I think he’s going to be better than Corey.”
The younger Caddle will also attend St. Peter’s Prep this fall.
Dickinson’s Donovan Figueroa is the team’s centerfielder, with Javy Flores and Bernard Shivers, both from Marist, sharing right field.
“This will be fourth time I’m going to a World Series,” Suarez said. “It’s exciting. The kids have no idea how they’re going to be treated. They don’t understand the experience they will have and the memories they will make.”
The Jackie Robinson 18-and-under team features a familiar coach in Marist head coach Ron Hayward, another with experience at the RBI World Series level. Hayward was the head coach of the Jackie Robinson team that won the entire World Series crown two years ago in Minnesota.
“It’s exciting,” said Hayward, whose team beat Paterson, 3-1, to win the regional title at LIU Sunday. “It’s great that the World Series is in Texas. It’s great for the kids, because it’s an experience of a lifetime.”
The Jackie Robinson pitching staff features several of Hayward’s stalwarts from Marist, like 2014 Hudson Reporter Most Valuable Player Matt Littrell (headed to Monmouth) and Royal Knight teammates Josh Witherspoon (headed to South Florida) and A.J. Candelario.
“With the pitching staff we had, I knew we could do it,” Hayward said.
Littrell was the winning pitcher in the game against Paterson, surrendering just one hit. Witherspoon, who was on the 2012 World Series champs, threw a shutout against Greater New York in the semifinals. Candelario is joined on the pitching staff by Mark Venice of Seton Hall Prep and Josh Felix, another member of the World Series winners from two years ago. The aforementioned Corey Caddle is the team’s closer.
Catching is shared by Brandon Hansen of Marist and Mike Ionta of St. Peter’s College. Venice and Witherspoon share first base, depending upon who is pitching. Second base duties are shared by Dickinson’s Lenny Guzman and Hudson Catholic’s Matt Falotico. The shortstop is Milo Freeman of Millburn, with Luis Amaro at third.
Caddle is in left field, with Marist’s Angel Perez (headed to St. Peter’s College) in center and Elijah Hernandez of Marist in right.
“It’s great when we give the kids a chance to travel,” Hayward said. “They have such a huge smile on their face when they’re traveling. A lot of the kids get good exposure and I get a chance to coach some of my players again for the last time. I’m going to miss them.”
Hayward credited the work of Jackie Robinson general manager Brian Mills for doing all the necessary paperwork to get both teams ready for the trip to Texas next week.
“He deserves it,” Hayward said of Mills. “He works so hard.”
Both Jackie Robinson teams will begin action in the RBI World Series Aug. 6…
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.