Memorable year for Memorial, with three Tigers leading All-Area Fernandez wins Player of the Year; St. Mary’s Laguerre tabbed as Coach of Year

In years past, veteran Memorial baseball coach Tony Ferrainolo liked to have his players specialized. His pitchers pitched and his hitters hit. The two never mixed. His pitchers had to concentrate solely on pitching, guys like Luis Garcia, Scott Morrison, Danny Marroquin and Danny Cainas, all former Memorial All-County performers who did one thing – threw the baseball.

But as the 2003 season approached, Ferrainolo was forced to change his philosophies a bit. His best first baseman, Steve Schlitzer, was also a fine pitcher. And his best overall fielder, shortstop Luis Fernandez, was also his best pitcher.

So if Ferrainolo wanted to win with this team, he had to use Schlitzer and Fernandez in roles that were never used before with his prior teams.

Well, the moves more than worked, because both Schlitzer and Fernandez thrived in their dual roles and along with teammate Jose Maldonado, they headline the 2003 Hudson Reporter All-Area High School Baseball Team.

The Tigers were the area’s best team this season, winning the HCIAA Coviello championship and posting a remarkable 24-2 record.

Because of his versatility as well as his ability, Fernandez has been selected as the Player of the Year. Fernandez had an 8-0 record, a 1.93 earned run average and three saves on the mound, including a big victory over Hudson Catholic to clinch the HCIAA title.

Fernandez also batted .441 with six doubles, four triples, one homer, 31 runs scored and 18 RBI from the leadoff slot, stealing 22 bases, while displaying the best infield defense the Tigers have seen since Santiago Chi roamed shortstop there before heading off to Seton Hall.

In Ferrainolo’s eyes, Fernandez’s accomplishments are outstanding, because his talents had to be developed. He wasn’t an instant star. It took time.

"He understood what he had to do and worked hard at it, lifting, getting stronger," Ferrainolo said. "When Luis first started with us, a good hit ball might have broken him in half. But he got better and better and developed into a player. He knows the game, plays it all year round, even umpires at Babe Ruth games when he’s not playing. He’s just a great kid who deserves everything he gets."

Fernandez, who is also a good student, will play college baseball at Bloomfield College in the fall.

In all, six players are repeat honorees, namely catcher Izzy Cuadra of Ferris, utility men Chris Jodice of Weehawken and Chris Lugo of Hudson Catholic, third baseman Gil Zayas of St. Joseph of the Palisades and outfielders Danny Lopez of Weehawken and Willy Morel of Emerson.

For leading his team to the HCIAA Seglio regular season title and the NJSIAA Parochial B North title game, St. Mary’s head coach Pat Laguerre earns the nod as the Hudson Reporter Coach of the Year.

–Jim Hague