Winning has become an annual thing for a special group of North Bergen baseball players.
After all, they won Little League championships at practically every age level, winning District 7 championships as 10-year-olds in 2006, 11-year-olds in 2007 and last year, won the District 7 and Section 2 titles en route to becoming the first Hudson County Little League team to qualify for the state tournament since 1988.
So when they entered the District 6 13-year-old Babe Ruth tournament recently, they had a little bit of history on their side.
Except for one difference – the playing field suddenly got larger.
“I think the field grew more than they did,” said Guillermo Fernandez, who has managed the same group of youngsters practically since they started playing baseball. “They struggled a little at first with the bigger field. They had to get more accustomed to the longer distances, especially from shortstop and third base. It was a big difference in distances from Little League to Babe Ruth.”
Babe Ruth baseball is played at the conventional distances, with 90-foot base paths and the pitching rubber being 60-feet, six inches from home plate.
“It was a huge adjustment for the kids,” Fernandez said. “Pitchers really had some work to do. Kids that were very good in Little League might not be as successful in Babe Ruth.”
However, these North Bergen youngsters know how to win. And once again, for the fourth straight year, they captured a District title, winning the District 6 13-year-old Babe Ruth title and then moving on to the New Jersey Babe Ruth 13-year-old state championships last week in Bloomfield.
The North Bergen team won three games in pool play, defeating New Milford, Wood-Ridge and Rutherford to advance to the tourney’s championship round, but the run ended there, with North Bergen dropping a tough decision to Monroe last Sunday.
“I still think it’s very impressive,” Fernandez said. “It’s tough to win that tournament, because you need a lot of pitching. We tried to spread it out and use different kids each day. Once you get out of pool play, it’s a one-game elimination. We lost and it was over. But there’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
One thing that might have hurt this team’s chances of winning is that their best pitcher from last year, Jeremy Cerda, was still playing Little League baseball. Cerda, a promising prospect, is only 12 years old.
But the rest of the pitching staff was back from last year’s memorable run, guys like A.J. Gale, Anthony Dabal and Alex Lopez, as well as newcomer Jose Roman. It had to be especially tough on Dabal, because he was also North Bergen’s No. 1 catcher, so he had to throw all the time.
Power-hitting James Rangel, who hit a ton of homers in last year’s surge to the New Jersey State Little League tourney, returned to the team in time to play in last weekend’s Babe Ruth state tourney.
Luigi Guerrero, Felix Pimentel and Manny Dominguez shared second base duties. Gale was the team’s shortstop when not pitching. Fernie Jimenez played everywhere in the infield, seeing time at second, third and shortstop, depending on the need and who was pitching. Nicky Flores and Brian Guerrero also saw plenty of action at third base.
The outfield consisted of Andy Fernandez, the manager’s son, P.J. Cardone, who was the team’s leading hitter and Alex Rodriguez, who is also known as “A-Rod” like the guy who plays in the Bronx and dates Kate Hudson.
North Bergen’s version of “A-Rod” hit two homers in the state tournament.
Although the season ended with the loss to Monroe, manager Fernandez thoroughly enjoyed winning another championship with this talented bunch.
“It was a lot of fun,” Fernandez said. “Every year, they surprise me. They’ve all grown so much. They’re now almost all taller than me. They’ve been together so long and we’ve been together so long as coaches that it’s like family now. We’re a family. That’s what makes it so good. We’re family.”
A family of winners, with four championship banners to prove it…
The West New York American Little League 12-year-old All-Stars held their own in the Section 2 tournament last week in Lyndhurst, winning two games, before losing to eventual champion Nutley East.
WNY American defeated Ridgefield Park, 6-1, in the opening game, then lost 7-5 to Nutley East. The WNY Americans then rallied to defeat Garfield, 9-3, moving on to the title round, where they lost again to Nutley East, 8-3.
It was a great run by coach Castaldi Garcia’s group and it proves once again that the true hotbed for young Hudson County baseball talent lives within the boundaries of West New York….
The EXTRA INNINGS weekly feature focuses on the best stories that come from local baseball and softball leagues throughout the area.
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