Marco Mejia knows that he has a tough situation to handle, taking over the Ferris High School baseball program while the architect of the team, legendary coach Mike Hogan, is battling his legal issues after an arrest last year stemming from allegedly saying inappropriate sexual things to grade school students in a classroom.
Hogan has since been suspended as a teacher and a coach and Mejia has been tabbed to take over in an interim basis.
“I was sad when I first heard,” said Mejia, who served as an assistant coach to Hogan for the last five years. “I was disappointed to learn about it. But in order to keep the team together, we decided [fellow assistant coach Angel Zayas] to keep things the way Coach would have wanted it.”
Mejia said that he spoke with Hogan when the incident became public last September.
“He told me that I had to take charge,” Mejia said. “I said, ‘No problem. Let’s do it.’”
Mejia said that the Bulldogs were all upset and angered by the Hogan incident.
“They kept asking, ‘Why?’ We need him here,’” Mejia said. “They were also sad and disappointed. But they understood they had a job to do. They had to get ready for the season.”
Mejia was asked what it was like to take over for a legendary Hall of Fame coach, albeit in unexpected fashion.
“I just have a different relationship now with the kids,” Mejia said. “He [Hogan] was more of the stern disciplinarian. But I have to be the authority figure now. I have to bring down the hammer. I’ve been with these kids for a while now and have a good rapport with them.”
The Bulldogs lost some key people from the team that finished 17-9 last year, like Hudson Reporter All-Area honorees Matthew Beam and Franklin Hernandez, but they also have a fine nucleus of returnees that should keep the team competitive well into late May.
“The kids want to play,” Mejia said. “They want to compete. They’re focused on getting better. They’re putting in the time and the effort. They look forward to practice and games and it’s not a struggle to get them to do it.”
Leading the way for the Bulldogs is junior Robert Estrada, who earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors last year as a sophomore outfielder.
Estrada is also a right-handed pitcher and should be the team’s ace hurler this spring.
“He has a good fastball and a good breaking ball,” Mejia said. “He’s a premier power pitcher.”
Senior Jahi Williams is a four-year member of the Ferris varsity. Williams is also a right-handed pitcher.
“He’s a competitor,” Mejia said of Williams. “He’s going to give it his all. He has a good fastball and changeup.”
Sophomore righty Marcus Monroe is also a solid starter.
“He pitched a lot of big games for us last year as a freshman,” Mejia said. “He has a good arm and throws strikes.”
Freshman Denny Furcal is a left-handed thrower.
“He’s very poised for a freshman,” Mejia said. “He’s very mature for his age. He has a veteran’s mentality for a freshman.”
Junior Jafari Williams, the younger brother of Jahi, and sophomore Andy Antonio are on call if Mejia needs a pitcher from the bullpen.
“We have a lot of good arms if they’re healthy,” Mejia said. “We’re going to be ready to roll.”
The catcher is impressive sophomore Jerome Banks, who has an absolute rifle for an arm.
“He was a starter for us last year as a freshman,” Mejia said. “He’s swinging the bat a little better as well.”
Freshman Christopher Gonzalez backs up Banks.
Furcal is the everyday first baseman. Senior Winston Ynoa backs up Furcal and plays first when Furcal is on the mound.
Jahi Williams returns to his spot at second base, where he’s been for the last three spring seasons for the Bulldogs.
“He’s been a four-year starter and an All-County player,” Mejia said of Jahi Williams. “He’s a great fielder and clutch hitter.”
Shortstop duties will be handled by Antonio, who moves from third base to shortstop to replace the graduated Hernandez.
“Andy is very promising,” Mejia said. “He has a lot of tools.”
Third base duties are now in the hands of Marcus Monroe or senior Santos Rodriguez, who will also help with the pitching when called upon.
Estrada returns to left field when he’s not pitching. He hit .380 last year and led the Bulldogs in hitting to earn All-Area honors. Jafari Williams plays centerfield and senior Jorge Herrera is in right.
The Bulldogs open the new season against North Bergen, then face Bayonne, Xavier of New York and Passaic.
“We have a lot of flexibility to move people around,” Mejia said. “We have four tough games right away, so let’s see where we are. I think we’ll be okay. You can never replace a legendary coach like Coach Hogan. His values are large to this team. He instilled a good baseball culture with this group and the kids respond to that.”
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com