EXTRA INNINGSJersey City Reds head to Koufax World Series

Team gets assistance from Hall of Fame inductee Larkin

Julio Suarez, Jr. has dedicated his life to the game of baseball, much like his father, Julio, Sr. did when the elder Suarez was involved with the Roberto Clemente Little League and as head coach at St. Mary’s High School.
“It’s in the family,” the younger Suarez said. “It’s in the blood.”
The devotion to the sport has continued through the years, with Suarez, Jr. organizing a youth baseball team for players just a little older than Little League age.
Last year, the team was called the Jersey City Pirates, in honor of the team that Hall of Famer Clemente played for.
This year, Suarez’s team got help from the newest member of the Baseball Hall of Fame – and they got a chance last weekend to share in that Hall of Fame induction in Cooperstown.
Through former Hudson Catholic baseball standout Eric Amador Mays, a current baseball agent, Suarez was introduced to Cincinnati Reds legend Barry Larkin.
The former National League Most Valuable Player and All-Star shortstop was living in Hoboken as he did analysis for the MLB Network, whose studios are located in Secaucus.
“Barry wanted to help the team out,” Suarez, Jr. said. “With his resources, we were able to get a sponsorship with [sporting goods giant] Under Armour.”
Larkin also came to the team’s tryouts at the bubble at St. Peter’s College Yanitelli Center’s bubble last January.
“He wanted to come and personally watch the tryouts,” Suarez, Jr. said. “He even came with us [the coaching staff consisting of Hoboken standouts and former minor league players Ralph and Mike Eusebio and Julio Suarez, Sr.] and went through each kid, giving his evaluation.”
Imagine that. A former MLB superstar, a guy headed to the Hall of Fame, was actually taking the time to advise a local baseball team. That’s dedication to the utmost.
“Barry loves the game and wanted to be involved every step of the way,” Suarez, Jr. said. “When the kids tried out, they were in awe. Here was Barry Larkin, hands on, dealing with these kids. He was there for the whole process.”
In honor of Larkin – and for the organization that Mike Eusebio played for during his minor league days (older brother Ralph was a Chicago Cubs prospect) – the 13-and-under team that Larkin helped to sponsor and form was renamed as the Jersey City Reds.
Larkin wasn’t concerned with building a winning program.
“Barry just wanted to develop the kids, teach them about the game,” Suarez, Jr. said. “It was more about development than anything. But the kids responded so well. They took it to another level.”
They certainly did.
The Jersey City Reds played in the North Jersey Youth Baseball League on the Sandy Koufax 13-and-under level, the Amateur American Baseball Congress division that has been the home of several local teams over the years. In fact, the Sandy Koufax World Series was held in Jersey City for a few years in the late 1990s.
In that AABC North Jersey League, the Jersey City Reds posted a 12-0 regular season record and went 5-0 in the state playoffs, winning the New Jersey state championship.
With the victory, the Jersey City Reds are headed to the Koufax World Series in Battle Creek, Michigan later this week.
Suarez, Jr. has been very impressed with the talent level on his team.
“We had 51 kids try out and to narrow it down to 13 was the toughest thing,” Suarez, Jr. said. “I had kids who played for me in the past and did a good job and didn’t make this team. We had to be equal opportunity and pick the best kids.”
One of the standouts is right-handed pitcher Dillon Tyler, whom Suarez, Jr. believes is a rising star.
“He’s a very good power pitcher,” Suarez, Jr. said. “He throws the ball very hard. He’s been awesome all season.”
Gabriel Tosado is another of the Reds’ top pitchers.
“He mixes up his pitchers well,” Suarez, Jr. said of the righty.
Elijah Tait, another right hander, has demonstrated a dominating curve and good fastball on the mound. The team has four other pitchers they can call on in the demanding schedule in Michigan. Julio Suarez III, the head coach’s son and assistant coach’s grandson, is another pitcher who is the team’s regular second baseman.
“It’s actually been a blessing, getting a chance to coach my son,” Suarez, Jr. said. “I was fortunate enough to be coached by my Dad and now I can watch my son grow into his own.”
Tony Petrosino, Adam Swift and Terrance Lubin are also quality pitchers who might get the ball in Michigan.
Lubin has received a nickname from the newest member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
“Barry calls him ‘Looby,’” Suarez, Jr. said. “It’s stuck. We definitely have a deep pitching staff. It’s been the strength of the team.”
Modesto Sanchez and Khalil Jackson have been sharing the catching duties, with Tait, a power hitter and top slugger, manning first base when he’s not on the mound.
The youngest of the Suarez family plays second base, along with Matthew Sicard.
Tosado is the shortstop, while slugging Finn Hodgins is the third baseman. Justin Agosta, one of the team’s top hitters, plays left field, along with Jazper Mejia. Lubin, who has a ton of promise, is the centerfielder, with Hans Schundler, the son of former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler, in right.
Before the team headed to Michigan, they went in unison to see Larkin’s induction and emotional speech in Cooperstown.
“The kids were having a blast,” Suarez, Jr. said. “They met Yogi Berra, Frank Robinson, Gaylord Perry and Rickey Henderson.”
Henderson once played minor league baseball in Jersey City in 1978, long before any of the current players were even born.
Before that, in 1960, there was a Class AAA team in Jersey City, called the Jersey City Reds, although the team became the Jersey City Jerseys because of Fidel Castro’s overthrow of Cuba – and most of the players on that Jersey City team were of Cuban descent.
Yes, that team (featuring future major leaguers like Cookie Rojas, Vic Davalillo and ) was an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, much like the organization that once paid Mike Eusebio and the best shortstop in the franchise’s history. It all comes together.
“I’m still living a dream,” Suarez, Jr. said. “I haven’t woken up yet. We set our goals in January and we hoped to get to the World Series. Now, we’re going.”
Thanks to the help of a true Hall of Famer.
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