After a highly successful freshman season as a pitcher and shortstop for the St. Anthony High School baseball team a year ago, Justice Ramirez was raring to go as the 2017 season began last week.
“After last year, I definitely had a lot of confidence,” Ramirez said. “I didn’t care about the competition. I was just going to relax and focus. That’s about all.”
St. Anthony head coach Ron Hayward knew that Ramirez was poised for a big year. After all, Hayward has been familiar with Ramirez since he was a 9-year-old Little Leaguer coming out of North Bergen.
At that time, Hayward was coaching a youth baseball team that his talented son Elliott played for.
“He saw me play in a District  Little League game against [Roberto] Clemente [Little League],” Ramirez said. “I did really well in that game. Coach Hayward came up to me and asked me if I wanted to try out for his travel team. I knew I wanted to play for him.”
“It all just fell together,” Hayward said. “He found me and I found him.”
At the young age of just 9 years old, Ramirez was aware of his burgeoning baseball future. He was already taught the basics of the game from his father, Fabio Ramirez, who was a good baseball player in his days growing up in Queens.
“My Dad was actually a pitcher growing up, but he taught me about everything,” Ramirez said. “He taught me about hitting. I learned a lot from him.”
Last year as a freshman for the Friars, Ramirez won four games on the mound and batted .388 with 16 RBI. But Ramirez knew he was going to produce better numbers this year.
“Last year, because I was a freshman, I had a lot of emotion when I played,” Ramirez said. “This year, I’m just calm and relaxed, both pitching and hitting.”
So far, in the first week of the young season, Ramirez is doing a lot of both for the Friars.
As a pitcher, Ramirez has pitched 13 innings against Hoboken and Bayonne. The powerful right-hander fired a five-hitter against Hoboken, striking out 13 and walking just one in a 3-1 win. Ramirez then pitched six innings against Bayonne, allowing just four hits while striking out eight. He left with a 5-1 lead, but the Friars’ bullpen couldn’t withstand the Bees’ rally and St. Anthony lost, 7-5, for their first loss of the young season.
At the plate, Ramirez has been nothing short of brilliant. He’s collected 10 hits in 17 at-bats (a .588 batting average) with one homer and four RBI. Ramirez also scored 10 runs. He had three hits and scored three times in a win over Shabazz and had two hits in games against Secaucus and Bayonne.
For his efforts, Ramirez has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week. Ramirez is the first honoree of the spring scholastic sports season.
Although he’s a sensational pitcher, Ramirez likes to think of himself in another fashion.
“To be honest, I’m a hitter,” Ramirez said. “I love hitting. I’ve always been a good hitter.”
Hayward believes that Ramirez is a college prospect either way.
“He’s a great baseball player,” Hayward said. “I don’t know if he’s exceeding any expectations, because I knew he would have a good year. He’s been playing with me since he was nine. When he pitches, I know he’s going to give me six good innings. He’s been doing that every time since he was little. He’s always been a good baseball player. He’s a very strong kid who now has gotten a little stronger.”
Ramirez said that he worked diligently in the offseason to get ready for this year.
“I was in the weight room all the time,” Ramirez said. “I know that hard work pays off. I knew that I wanted to come out this year and have fun.”
“He worked so hard,” Hayward said. “All the kids have put the work in all year. They all grew up together and now it’s showing.”
Ramirez is a North Bergen resident. He doesn’t know what he will do next year now that St. Anthony has announced it will close at the end of the school year. His friends and teammates may scatter to schools all over the area. Ramirez doesn’t want to think of that just yet.
“It’s really disappointing,” Ramirez said of the school’s closing. “We all didn’t want it to end. Now, we’re going to go out with a bang. I know the rest of the team feels that way. We want to make this a very special year.”
“He’s going to be a very good college baseball player,” Hayward said. “When that time comes.”
For now, Ramirez will be a Friar and will enjoy the time he has left with his friends and teammates. The future will have to wait. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com