Jersey City’s Joza finishes second at Home Run Derby, well sort of; Local girl hit the longest homer, but changes made after contest started

Jersey City’s Jaylene Joza was a solid participant in the T-Mobile Little League Softball Home Run Derby in Williamsport, Pa. recently, finishing second overall. Photo courtesy of Erick Joza
Jersey City’s Jaylene Joza was a solid participant in the T-Mobile Little League Softball Home Run Derby in Williamsport, Pa. recently, finishing second overall. Photo courtesy of Erick Joza

Jaylene Joza was excited to participate in the T-Mobile Home Run Derby at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. recently.

The Jersey City teenager earned the right to compete among the eight regional winners by capturing the East Regional championship in Atlanta a few weeks ago.

So Joza received an invite to participate in the Home Run Derby’s softball division at the Little League World Series.

“It was pretty cool,” Joza said. “I got to watch the World Series game that the Elizabeth team played in.”

The Elizabeth team was the famed Elmora Troopers who captured the District 7 championship in Secaucus a few weeks ago, defeating Washington Park in the semifinals and then knocking off Hoboken in the championship game.

The Elmora Troopers won two games at the Little League World Series before being eliminated in the semifinals by Louisiana.

“It was pretty interesting to see the talent that the team had,” Joza said.

Joza also got to meet some celebrities during her stay in Williamsport, softball queen Jennie Finch, the famed pitcher who is now an announcer and T-Mobile representative.

“It was good meeting her,” Joza said. “At first, no one recognized her before she introduced herself.”

Joza also met ESPN announcer Jessica Mendoza, the member of the New York Mets’ front office who serves on ESPN’s coverage of Major League Baseball. Joza met former New York Yankees’ slugger Mark Teixiera, who was attended as an announcer of the Little League World Series games for ESPN.

“He was telling us all what teams he played for,” Joza said of Teixiera. “At first, I didn’t know who he was, but then he told us, and I was shocked to learn he played for the Yankees.”

Joza is a fan of the Bronx Bombers.

Joza was pleased with the celebrity gazing, the meet-and-greet portion of the competition.

As for the tournament itself, well, there’s a little story involving that.

When the Home Run Derby began, Joza was the only participant who cleared the fences the way they were originally situated 170 feet away from home plate.

Joza hit one ball over the fence at 170 feet. No other competitor managed to do the same. It should have meant that Joza was the champion and the recipient of T-Mobile’s grand prize.

Well, not really.

Because it was a television event, and only one girl cleared the initial fences, the organizers decided to move the fences in to 140 feet and start all over.

That was really unfair to the only girl to hit a home run over the fences at 170 feet.

“I was pretty upset,” Joza said. “I was practicing a lot at 170. I knew I could do my best at 170, and I hit one. I thought I had it in the bag. I was upset and surprised that they moved the fences in. I asked, ‘Did they have to do that?’”

And that should have been enough.

“I thought I should have won,” Joza said.

When the organizers moved the fences in, Joza’s game was thrown off.

“I knew I could have won, but my swings were off,” Joza said. “I took a couple of pitches and was hesitant to swing.”

As it turned out, Joza made it to the final round, but was defeated in a “swing-off” in the finals, when another competitor put two out from the improvised distance.

Needless to say, that wasn’t a proper way to treat the local girl.

In the rules, T-Mobile stated that “T-Mobile, Little League or the Competition Agency reserve the right to alter, update and modify these rules prior to these events taking place.”

T-Mobile covered its tracks by printing the rules changes, flying by the seat of its pants just to have a television event.

It doesn’t serve as consolation to the lone girl who cleared the fences at the initial distances.

And get this: Joza received nothing for finishing second. Not a single thing. No trophy, no plaque, no certificate of participation. Nada.

“I would have thought I would have received congratulations,” Joza said. “But I got nothing.”

Sure sounds fishy in these parts, but then again, T-Mobile could change the rules at its whim. The amended rules said as much on the website. It doesn’t mean that it was right, that’s for sure.

There’s one thing that came from all this Home Run Derby competition. The local high school softball scene will gain a major star in the years to come with Jaylene Joza. She’s certainly a player to watch when she begins her high school softball career in 2021. – Jim Hague

Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com