Six years ago, Josh Aronowitz was strictly a physical education teacher and basketball coach at Bergenfield High School, when he learned of an opening at a new Jersey City charter high school searching for a baseball coach.
“I would love to do that,” Aronowitz said at the time. “I was young and I wanted to coach baseball.”
However, the position was at University Charter Academy, a fledgling high school housed inside the old arts building of New Jersey City University.
“I knew that there were some issues when I took the job,” Aronowitz said. “I knew that they were completely rebuilding and coming off some one and two-win seasons. I knew that they were traveling pretty far to get games. It was pretty hard.”
Still, Aronowitz took the job – and didn’t find much success.
“My first year, we were 1-15 and we ended up getting the win on the last game of the season,” Aronowitz said. “It was definitely a struggle, no question.”
Aronowitz said that he inherited a program that didn’t have a lot of equipment.
“We had six baseballs, two bats and 24 batting helmets,” Aronowitz said. “Someone donated a lot of helmets. But we didn’t have anything.”
The school also didn’t have a budget for baseball, so for anything Aronowitz wanted to do he had to get the money himself.
“We did a lot of fundraising,” Aronowitz said. “A friend of mine donated some money, so we could buy baseballs.”
The team didn’t even own baseball hats.
“We wore the Oakland A’s snapback hats,” Aronowitz said. “We had to raise some money to get us going.”
There was a Latin food day at the school, with parents making homemade empanadas and chicken and rice.
“That helped a little,” Aronowitz said. “Believe me, it wasn’t easy.”
But the program survived and got better. The school became a member of the new-fangled Hudson County Interscholastic Athletic League (the HCIAL), so University Charter got some scheduled games against divisional foes like Snyder, Lincoln and McNair Academic, as well as other independent games inside the league.
The Generals also got talented players to join the fold.
“It’s really starting to pick up now,” Aronowitz said.
One of the team’s newcomers this year has made a sudden impact. That’s freshman pitcher Edwin Garcia.
“He’s really been a big surprise,” Aronowitz said of the talented right-hander.
How much? Well, in Garcia’s very first varsity appearance, he threw a no-hitter against Lincoln.
“He’s been pitching well,” Aronowitz said of Garcia, who has a stellar 3-0 record thus far this season and has struck out an astounding 35 batters in just 18 innings pitched. He’s also only allowed 11 hits and has an amazing 0.77 earned run average.
“I knew he was able to pitch well,” Aronowitz said. “I just never thought he’d be this strong. He doesn’t walk anyone and keeps the ball around the plate. He has good velocity and good off-speed stuff. Everyone is beginning to know him because he threw a no-hitter on Opening Day.”
It’s certainly not a bad way to open eyes.
The Generals have another talented pitcher in sophomore right-hander Dominick Rosales, who has a 2-1 record, with 22 strikeouts and a 1.34 ERA.
Rosales is also the Generals’ top hitter.
“He’s been hitting the crap out of the ball,” Aronowitz said of Rosales, who has a gaudy .647 batting average with 11 hits, including three doubles, three triples and a home run.
“He has a very bright future,” Aronowitz said of Rosales. “He did well for us last year. He also has not struck out once this year.”
With those two players, the Generals already have more than a fighting chance.
Sophomore Jose Diaz rounds out the young pitching staff.
When he’s not pitching, Garcia is the catcher. He has a fine .350 batting average and is a better than average defensive backstop. Sophomore Xavier Morales catches when Garcia is on the hill.
Junior Edeny Vega, a three-year starter, is the first baseman. He leads the Generals with 15 RBI already.
Sophomore Elvin Soto is the second baseman, with sophomore Frederick Andujar playing either second or shortstop depending upon when Rosales is pitching.
Freshman David Faulkner is the team’s third baseman.
“He’s a work in progress,” Aronowitz said of Faulkner. “He’s putting the ball in play.”
The left fielder is senior Jose Perez, one of the few seniors on the squad. Perez is batting .467 and has hit two home runs.
Sophomore Dishawn Gates is in centerfield and senior David Figueroa is in right.
The Generals own a 5-1 record thus far and have 12 games remaining. They will play in the upcoming Ed “Faa” Ford Memorial Hudson County Tournament, not worrying about a possible opponent or seeding.
The Generals, who have won the small HCIAL White Division title the last two seasons, will also participate in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I state playoffs.
But the 5-1 record at this point of the season is the program’s best mark ever after six games. It’s a long way from one-win campaigns, having to travel to places like Point Pleasant just to get a game.
“People don’t know about us much,” Aronowitz said. “We’re trying to get recognized. This is my sixth year here and we’re still working to get some recognition. I think last year, when we beat St. Anthony in a play-in game in the Hudson County Tournament and then played St. Peter’s Prep hard, it gave us a little notoriety.”
Having a freshman throw a no-hitter with nine strikeouts in his varsity debut also helps in the recognition factor.
The Generals faced a busy week, playing Lincoln, Snyder and Newark West Side all last week.
“We’re getting a few independent games now,” said Aronowitz, who is slated to face Harrison this week. “It’s been a lot of fun. Six years ago, when I first came, it was rough. But we stuck to the guidelines we set and we’re doing fine. We’re winning games and that’s the most important thing.”
And certainly a good way to get University Charter on the Hudson County baseball map.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.