When a North Bergen High School student was selected to play in the 2011 Under Armour Pre-Season All America baseball tournament, he realized that his dream might not come true because he had to raise money first.
Jesse Baiza, 19, of North Bergen has played baseball since he was 11 and always wanted the chance to show his skills to professional scouts. His father, Hector Baiza Jr., said that his baseball coach, Patrick Brady, has paid for entry fees for baseball showcases, which would be a tough financial prospect for the family.
Baiza was noticed recently at one of these showcases, which led to his invite to the tournament, to be held in Tuscon, Arizona from Jan. 14 to 16.
Players from across the country will compete in three games, vying to be noticed for Major League Baseball.
“My grandfather…his last few words to me were, ‘You can do anything you set your mind to.’ ” – Jesse Baiza
Mannion picked up his phone and called North Bergen Sgt. Henry Marrero and West New York Det. Marcos Garcia, hoping to figure out how to raise the more than $1,600 for Baiza.
“I was extremely surprised,” said Baiza. “When he got on the phone with Henry, his family took me in and said, ‘We’re here for you, to help you.’ ”
T.U.F.F. Combat Threadz, a clothing line created by Marrero, North Bergen Sgt. Joseph Gener, who is the creative force of the project, and Karim Ramos, who is well-established in press relations, donated around $800 to the cause. They had planned on donating to an organization every month from their profits, but since their company is in its beginning stages, they took the funds out of their own account.
Marrero’s wife Connie donated approximately another $800 as a donation through her company, Freestream Aircraft.
Lastly, they reached out to a former West New York police officer whose son, Joe Rodriguez, an owner of several New York City McDonald’s restaurants, promised to give Baiza spending money for the trip.
When Baiza and his family spoke about his aspirations and the donations he had recently received, they were reeling from recent loses. Baiza’s grandfather Hector passed away four months ago. Also, his grandmother Hortensia died on New Year’s Day.
“She told me she knew I could do it,” said Baiza. “My grandfather…his last few words to me were, ‘you can do anything you set your mind to,’ and that’s exactly what I’m here to do, trying to be the best I can be.”
Baiza said that he has had mixed feelings about the tournament, because he is trying to move on from the loss of his loved ones, but that he wants to remain focused and succeed not only for himself, but for them as well.
His parents want him to travel to Arizona and believe that he can achieve his goals.
“He’s been a good son, kept away from peer pressure, all of those things,” said his father.
His mother believes that Baiza was born to do well. She said that while he was on the traveling team – the South Jersey Mets – his coach was pro baseball player Bobby Jones.
“All of the doors that have been open and the people that he’s met haven’t been a coincidence,” said his mother. “It’s been destiny.”
Baiza’s grandfather was a professional soccer player, so his words resonate with Baiza. Hector Sr. grew up in El Salvador and went on to enter the Central South American hall of fame for the sport.
Hector Sr. had it very hard as a child when both of his parents died, but was later spotted playing soccer in the streets, said Hector Jr. This turned into a renowned career, but when he moved to America in 1963 he rarely told anyone about his former glory because he was humble.
Baiza hopes he can make everyone proud when he plays next week.
“You make the sacrifice to actually be there, so later in life it pays off,” he said. “Maybe I’ll be sitting in the July draft for 2011/2012 and they’ll see my name in the draft [and remember], ‘We saw this kid in Arizona, he has a good arm, he can run, hit for power, and then they are going to see the name.”
He also hopes to give back to others in the future.
Baiza has applied to colleges, but said that baseball will always be important since it has helped him get through “hard times.”
Tricia Tirella may be reached at TriciaT@hudsonreporter.com.