Sweet Swings

Hoboken brothers team up to build better ballplayers

They were one of the most athletic families ever to pass through Hoboken High School. The name was synonymous with Red Wing royalty. The Eusebio brothers—Eddie, Ralph, Tony, and Michael—were the Windsors of the Mile Square City. Eddie, the oldest, chose basketball. Ralph, now 42, played a little bit of everything but chose baseball as his ticket out, getting drafted by the Chicago Cubs as a slick-fielding, power-hitting outfielder. Tony was also a talented athlete, but it was the youngest brother, Mike, now 36, who continued the pro baseball tradition, signing with the Cincinnati Reds as a hard-throwing pitcher.
“To me, there was no secret as to where I got my inspiration,” said Mike. “I had three other role models living with me as my older brothers. I was the lucky one. I just followed my brothers’ lead.”
Ralph, for his part, said, “I don’t think I could have encouraged Mike to become a pro baseball player. It just happened.”
After Ralph retired from baseball, he came back to become a Hoboken firefighter. Mike stepped away from baseball in 2003 and entered the business world, but the two brothers had something in common—the ability to work with kids and the desire to help.
“Ralph started it for me,” Mike said. “He always showed me how to give back.”
“Being around the game of baseball meant so much to me,” said Ralph, who came back to assist former Hoboken High head baseball coach Buddy Matthews. “I also helped out with some of the Jersey City teams. I gave some one-on-one lessons. I just wanted to help kids learn the sport I loved.”

Safe at Home

Ralph’s path from pro player to local coach started six years ago.
“I just stepped away from the game for four years and didn’t do anything,” Ralph said. “I didn’t want to do it anymore.” He played two years with the Cubs. “I had a chance to play in the Dominican Republic and didn’t do it,” he said. “I played a little independent ball with the Mohawk Valley Land Sharks, but I asked for my release, because I wasn’t enjoying it.”
Three years ago, Raf Hernandez, a former restaurateur and bar owner from Union City, came up with the idea of opening an indoor instructional baseball center that would include batting cages, enabling local baseball players to hone their skills all year, regardless of weather.
Hernandez was a standout baseball player at New York Tech on Long Island and later became a nationally recognized fast-pitch softball player.
After his softball days ended, Hernandez became an instructor at the Teel Baseball School in Bergen County, remaining for six years. While there, the plans for his own facility started to take shape.
In December 2012, Hernandez opened the Hudson Baseball Center on Summit Avenue in Union City and immediately reached out to Ralph Eusebio.
Soon after, Ralph secured the services of his youngest brother.
“I thought it was only fitting for me to have them as a part of this,” Hernandez said.
“This is exactly what I wanted to do,” said Ralph. “Once this place opened up and Raf called me to do this, I knew it was perfect. Raf came along and changed my whole life. I wouldn’t be doing much with baseball without it.”
“If we didn’t love the game, we wouldn’t want to do this,” added Mike, who was an infielder his entire life, then was discovered as a pitcher at age 22.

Base Hit

The trio has been diligent in getting the Hudson Baseball Center off the ground. They also offer softball pitching and hitting instruction, under the leadership of former Hoboken softball standout Ashley Barron, who was the 2010 Hudson Reporter Female Athlete of the year.
The Hudson Baseball Center has even opened its doors to soccer leagues and teams.
“I have to admit,” Hernandez said. “Soccer saved us for a while.”
The facility has initiated a travel baseball program that has helped the business flourish. Boys 10 and under, 12 and under, and 14 and under pay a fee to compete. Mike is in charge, scheduling and assembling a coaching staff.
About 90 percent of the boys playing in HBC’s travel program are from Hudson County.
“We try to teach them that there’s more to baseball than what’s inside the batter’s box,” Mike said. “We want to change their entire culture and teach them about discipline in life as well. That’s what we’re all about.”
“What they receive is a great product,” Hernandez said. “They are able to get an entire winter of practice together three days a week.”
“The kids are getting treated like they’re professionals,” Ralph said. “It’s all hands-on learning. I see Raf getting out there with them and fielding ground balls. I see Mike with the pitchers on the mound. The kids believe in them. It’s great to see.”

Team Players

Devin Cristian, 11, is an aspiring player from North Bergen who’s on the Hudson Baseball Center’s U-12 team and regularly comes to the facility for private lessons with the Eusebio brothers.
“Before I came here, I was very sloppy,” Cristian said. “I had no balance in my swing. I like having the winter training. I’m glad that they’re never closed. Baseball is definitely my favorite sport, and I’m glad to have them here for me.”
Cristian plays second base for the North Bergen Little League. With the Hudson Batting Center team, he also plays the outfield.
“The coaches really inspire me and definitely help me,” he said.
“Most of the kids understand what we’re asking of them,” Ralph said. “And they really act like professionals.”
Ralph said that the staff is always trying to come up with different angles to encourage new members. “We’ve had to be a little creative and figure out what we could do,” he said. “It’s still a roller coaster ride, but we’re growing pretty nicely.”

They Swung for the Fences

“Being here with my little brother has been fantastic for me,” Ralph said. “It really has been a godsend. I could always vouch for him and his baseball ability. I had that much confidence in him that he would be great here. We talk to each other all the time. If it wasn’t for this, I wouldn’t be with my brother as much. That’s the other blessing.”
Mike agrees. “Ralph allowed me the chance to come back,” he said. “I never would have been into it if it weren’t for my brother. I love it. It’s the greatest job in the world. I get to hang out with my brother and good friend. There’s no better place to be.”
Together, the Eusebio brothers, Hoboken’s athletic royalty, are making a difference with kids on a daily basis.
As Ralph said, “It’s like we’re producing little miracles here.”—07030

Hudson Baseball Center is at 2300 Summit Ave., Union City. It’s open year-round Monday through Friday, 3-9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. The facility can also be opened upon request. For further information, call (201) 766-6072.


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