SCOREBOARD

Weehawken’s baseball team taking a page from Dickens classic

A CHAPTER FROM DICKENS – The Weehawken baseball team has experienced the best of times and worst of times in one season. From left are Yasiel Gonzalez, Richard Moran, head coach Anthony Stratton, Gabriel Saldarriga and L.J. Ruiz.
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A CHAPTER FROM DICKENS – The Weehawken baseball team has experienced the best of times and worst of times in one season. From left are Yasiel Gonzalez, Richard Moran, head coach Anthony Stratton, Gabriel Saldarriga and L.J. Ruiz.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” – Charles Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’.

Clearly, Dickens didn’t have high school baseball in mind when he penned the immortal classic. But that line to open “A Tale of Two Cities” could definitely apply to the Weehawken High School baseball team this season.
The 2018 has definitely been the best of times and worst of times all wrapped into one six-week period.
The Indians have experienced the best of times in some capacities. Coming into the new season, veteran head coach Anthony Stratton truly believed that he had assembled a highly competitive squad.
“It’s not like we have a bunch of bad ballplayers,” Stratton said. “In fact, I think we have a lot of good players.”
It has also been a rewarding season for the Indians, because of their participation in the Autism Awareness Challenge recently, serving as the host school, as several teams from Bergen and Hudson County all converged on Weehawken to support the charity of assisting those affected with autism.
“Every single kid has bought into it and chipped in,” Stratton said. “They understand it. They understand how important they are in helping to raise money. That’s the big thing about our team. They’re all great kids.”
The Indians have all helped to raise funds and awareness for the illness that seems to be enveloping more and more children every year.
“It’s called the Autism Challenge for a reason,” Stratton said. “We challenge them to be something more than a baseball player. We remind them how lucky they are to play the game that they love. They all look forward to it every year. It’s a great day.”
This year, the Indians helped young Javen Navarro get up to the plate, hit the ball and watched as Javen ran around the bases.
“Javen is my friend’s son,” Stratton said. “He surprised everyone by hitting the ball and running around the bases. Last year, we actually had him lead off the game and it was announced, ‘Now batting, No. 7, Javen Navarro.’ This year, he surprised everyone by going all the way to home. It was a real special moment.”
So the Indians are talented and they have a big heart. That’s easy to see.
Then why do they have a poor 4-11 record as the season begins to wind down?
“We’re the best 4-11 team in the state,” Stratton said. “It’s not like we have a bunch of first-year players who are struggling. I don’t know why we’re struggling.”
The Indians recently went through a stretch where they lost four extra-inning games in a row, all by a single run. In games against Saddle Brook and Harrison, the Indians squandered big leads.
“What am I going to say to them after games?” Stratton asked. “I’m running out of speeches to say. My son reminds me that I can’t quit on my team and I won’t. We have to stay positive. We have had some great moments and then we’ve had other moments. We’re better than a lot of the teams that we lost to.”
Last Tuesday, the Indians put it all together and had their best performance of the season, defeating rival Becton Regional of East Rutherford, 4-2. Becton is a good team that is hovering around the top spot in their division of the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference.
“We played our best game and beat a good Becton team,” Stratton said. “So what I tell them is that if we lose, it’s on me. When we win, it’s them. They played well.”
So can the season be rectified?
Well, perhaps it can start this weekend, when the Indians face Dickinson in the opening round of the Ed “Faa” Ford Memorial Hudson County Tournament.
It’s a tournament that the Indians have enjoyed some success over the years, like the year they upset North Bergen en route to the championship game against St. Peter’s Prep.
That year, the Indians had an ace pitcher named Sal Mendez, who is still pitching in the Texas Rangers’ organization with the Hickory Crawdads in the South Atlantic League. Mendez has pitched in seven games this season with an 0-2 record and a 1.86 earned run average.
“We’ve had some good moments in the past in the county tournament,” Stratton said.
Mendez’s sister is one of the children with autism that the Autism Awareness Challenge is set aside for.
Stratton doesn’t understand how his team could have such a tough record.
“We’re left scratching our heads,” Stratton said. “We just have to get all the negative thoughts out of our heads. If you think you’re going to make an out or make an error, well those thoughts are lies. Every week, I tell them that if they can string together three games in a row, then things can turn around. But they have to believe in themselves.”
Stratton knows that if the Indians are going to make a solid run in the postseason, they have to start on the mound. The coach believes that the Indians have enough talent on the hill to string together a few wins.
“Most teams think they have a chance if they have two pitchers,” Stratton said. “We have four good ones.”
Yasiel Gonzalez is a senior left-handed pitcher.
“Yasiel has been with us for four years,” Stratton said of Gonzalez, who arrived on the scene when he was still a wet-behind-the-ears unproven freshman. “I expected him to step it up a little this year.”
Senior left-hander Gabriel Saldariagga is better known by his nickname.
“He’s called Gabe Ruth,” Stratton said. “He’s just a great kid. All the other coaches in our league just love him. He can’t do anything wrong.”
It’s safe to say that Babe Ruth is just a little better than Gabe Ruth, but it is a catchy nickname all the same.
Senior right-handed pitcher Rich Moran offers depth, as does freshman righty Collin Shevlin.
The best pitching prospect on the roster is the one who has already been getting some recognition – sophomore L.J. Ruiz, who has been making a lot of noise with the bat, batting .531 on 26-of-49 with two doubles, two triples and six RBI.
“L.J. is our leadoff hitter,” Stratton said. “We haven’t had a true leadoff hitter in quite some time. We have been mixing and matching at the leadoff spot for years. He’s more focused than most sophomores and is more mature. I didn’t realize how well he was doing hitting the ball.”
Ruiz has enjoyed six straight games with at least two hits and went 5-for-5 in a loss to South River.
Junior Jimmy Lopez is the team’s No. 2 hitter in the lineup and he’s hitting .440 thus far.
“He gives 100 percent every day,” Stratton said.
Lopez is the team’s regular centerfielder, with Ruiz regularly in left.
Senior Joe Mesa does the bulk of the catching, with Gonzalez playing first base when not pitching.
Shevlin and senior Damian Rodriguez share time at second base, with senior Joel Batista at shortstop and sophomore James Colon at third.
Junior Rex Fukuda is the team’s main right fielder, although fellow junior Marcus Wilson sees time there as well.
Giuseppe Salandra is the team’s backup catcher. Salandra offers some hope for the future as a freshman.
So it hasn’t been the stellar season that Stratton believed it would become.
“Let’s string three in a row and start believing in ourselves,” Stratton said. “We can still do some damage in the county playoffs and states [playoffs].”
But time is running out on determining whether the rest of the season will represent the best of times or the worst of times.
“Maybe Dickens was right,” Stratton said. “No doubt about it.”

Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com. You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.