EXTRA INNINGS Surprise, Arizona! Here come the kids from West New York WNY 14s head off to Koufax World Series in surprising fashion

Over the years, the teenagers who play baseball for any of the assortment of baseball teams in West New York have essentially become national travelers.

For instance, West New York has sent teams to Oklahoma, Michigan, Connecticut, and upstate New York in a variety of tournaments in the past.

Last Tuesday morning, it was more of the same, as the West New York 14-and-under baseball team headed to Arizona for the Sandy Koufax World Series, courtesy of winning the Mid-Atlantic Regional tournament that was held last weekend at Pershing Field in Jersey City.

In fact, the international tournament, featuring 10 teams from the United States, Canada, and Puerto Rico, was slated to be held in a place called Surprise, Arizona. Well, Surprise, here come the kids from West New York.

Veteran coach Lou Nagurka, one of the mainstays in summer youth baseball in West New York, is behind this 14-year-old group of All-Stars, who also headed to the Sandy Koufax World Series a year ago, when the tourney was held in Battle Creek, Michigan.

“This is basically the same team that went to Michigan last year,” Nagurka said after West New York posted a 5-1 record to win the regional tourney, defeating teams like the Jersey City Diamond Dawgs, as well as teams from West Milford and Phillipsburg in New Jersey; Brooklyn, New York City and Spring Creek in New York; and Holyoke, Massachusetts.

“I thought we had a chance to do well in the regional, especially since we saw three or four teams that were at the World Series with us last year,” Nagurka said. “We played some great competition and the kids played outstanding baseball throughout the regional. It was fantastic.”

So they boarded a plane to Arizona Tuesday and will begin play in the World Series Friday. West New York Mayor Silverio “Sal” Vega helped with the finances for the tourney and vowed to get the West New York business community to help back the team on their journey across the nation.

“We’ve never been as far as Arizona before,” Nagurka said. “It is amazing. The kids are all excited.” The West New York squad features a host of talented players, names that should grace the roster of Memorial High School’s baseball team over the coming years.

Leading the array of talented performers is Bryan Cuevas, who is the team’s No. 1 pitcher and also plays shortstop.

“He’s the real deal,” Nagurka said. “He’s been our top pitcher and our No. 2 hitter in the lineup. He’s a quiet kid who doesn’t get flustered easily. He throws first-pitch strikes and that’s the key. He absolutely has a bright future.”

Adolfo Hernandez and Jonathan Susini are two other right-handed pitchers that Nagurka can call on.

The team was able to add other players to the roster to strengthen the team while heading to Arizona. Two of those top players are Dan O’Neill, a pitcher/second baseman from Saddle Brook, and Carlos Joaquin, a hard-throwing righty from Paterson.

Anthony Urdaneta is the team’s slugging first baseman. Jose Tavares, an import from Union City, is the team’s second baseman. When Cuevas isn’t pitching, he holds the fort at shortstop, with Hernandez playing the position when Cuevas is on the mound.

Damien Rodriguez is the team’s slick-fielding third baseman.

Chris Gomez, the team’s lone 13-year-old player, is the main left fielder, with Kevin Linares in centerfield and Louis Ojeda from Secaucus in right field.

Two of the top reserves are second baseman Tyler Sauerborn and catcher Jose Escalante.

Nagurka likes the idea that the summer time becomes more that teaching the youngsters of West New York about baseball.

“It’s become more of a cultural thing,” Nagurka said. “We’re bringing these kids together and they become so close. We are able to take them to places they’ve never even dreamed about because they win championships in baseball. It’s a great feeling to be able to do this so many times. We’re also grateful to receive the support from Mayor Vega and the town. Everyone is behind us 100 percent. They all followed us through the state tournament and the regional.”

West New York captured both the New Jersey state crown and then the Mid-Atlantic Region title in the Sandy Koufax division of the Amateur American Baseball Congress (AABC). Now, it’s time to take on the national and in some cases, international competition.

A huge surprise in Surprise awaits.

The EXTRA INNINGS weekly feature focuses on the best stories that come from local baseball and softball leagues throughout the area.

If you have any noteworthy information to contribute to the EXTRA INNINGS, feel free to contact Jim Hague by voice mail at (201) 798-7800, Ext. 751, by general mail at 1400 Washington Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030, or via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com.

Please include a telephone contact name and number, in order to secure further information for a possible story… – Jim Hague


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