Since the Hoboken Recreation Department got involved with Major League Baseball’s RBI (Rebuilding Baseball in the Inner-Cities) program in 2007, the department’s softball team has dominated the Eastern Regional.
This year is no exception, as the Hoboken RBI softball team captured the Eastern Regional championship last week in Providence, R.I. and is headed to the World Series Aug. 11 in Cincinnati.
It marks the eighth time in 11 years that Hoboken will be a participant in the RBI Softball World Series.
The Hoboken RBI won four games in Providence to advance to Cincinnati.
“We’re having a lot of fun with this team,” said veteran Hoboken RBI head coach Vinnie Johnson. “The girls are having fun and we’re hoping it will not stop.”
Johnson, who also doubles as the head softball coach at Hoboken High School, thinks that his team is better equipped for the World Series than in prior years.
“We have a little better team this year,” Johnson said. “We’re scrappy, so I like our chances better than we did last year. I think the experience helps. A lot of these girls have made two and three trips to the World Series. They’ve been going since they were 15 [years old]. So just being there before helps. I try to balance it, taking some younger girls with us, so this way I have girls with experience later on. I made sure to keep some younger ones this year as well.”
When asked if he likes this team, Johnson replied: “I like all of my teams, but I really like this one. This is a special group. I also think they’re hungrier than others. They seem hungrier.”
Leading the returning players is pitcher Christina Mezey, who has played the last four summers with the Hoboken RBI.
Mezey, the former two-time Hudson Reporter Pitcher of the Year during her days at St. Dominic Academy, now pitches for New Jersey City University, having just completed her freshman year at NJCU.
“She’s been a part of this program since she was 13,” Johnson said. “I think she’s a lot stronger and a lot more confident this year. Hopefully, she will take us over the top.”
Another pitcher at Johnson’s disposal is Roxy Gonzalez of Memorial High School, who is only 15 years old. Gonzalez will return to the Tigers next spring.
“We needed to give her some experience,” Johnson said.
Miyoksi Suarez of Hudson Catholic is another pitcher who plays multiple positions.
The catcher is former Hoboken High standout Naomi Olacio, a three-time Hudson Reporter All-Area selection during her playing days. Olacio is a shortstop by trade, but has gone behind the plate to help this team.
“She handles the pitchers the best and she’s a leader out there,” Johnson said. “I have no problems at all with her catching.”
First base is handled by Taylor Barron, another former Hoboken High standout and All-Area honoree.
“I’m very familiar with her,” Johnson said of Barron. “She’s definitely a big help defensively at first. Her defense is what makes her special.”
Suarez plays second base most of the time, but Hudson Catholic’s Elizabeth Moyeno also sees time there.
The shortstop is Xionara Flores, who didn’t play high school softball last season.
“She’s by far one of the best athletes I’ve ever seen,” Johnson said.
Third base duties are handled by another of Johnson’s Hoboken players, Jaeda Henriquez, who will return to the Redwings (one word) in the fall.
Twin sister Alicea Henriquez is the left fielder after spending the high school season as a catcher. Both Henriquez sisters have been named to the Hudson Reporter All-Area team during their careers.
The centerfielder is Hudson Catholic grad Kristin Cunning, who just completed a highly successful season at Albertus Magnus College. Cunning was a third baseman at Hudson Catholic, also earning Hudson Reporter All-Area honors, but has developed into a fine centerfielder.
“She’ll play anywhere,” Johnson said. “She wound up pitching for her college team. She’s just an all-around player and a great young lady.”
The right fielder is Gabrielle Contey, who was Mezey’s catcher at St. Dominic Academy. Like Mezey, Contey is also playing at NJCU.
“She plays third base at NJCU, but she’s been a good fit for us in the outfield,” Johnson said.
The team is bolstered by substitutes Emily Marshall and Tatiana Dermond of Kearny, as well as Rachel Jones of Ridgefield Park. Dermond is a catcher and slugging designated hitter. Marshall is a pitcher who Johnson calls “a sleeper.”
Johnson said that he’s excited to bring another team to the World Series, which is sponsored by Major League Baseball, all expenses paid. The girls are all treated like royalty, as Major League Baseball rolls out the red carpet and doesn’t pinch pennies when it comes to taking care of the participants.
“When it comes to taking care of the kids, everything is top shelf,” Johnson said. “Some of these kids have never been outside of where they live, so it’s an experience for them. They give everyone the royal treatment and the girls get a big kick out of it. They learn about other kids. After the games, they all keep in touch with each other and become good friends, talking on Facebook. The relationships they develop, that’s the best part of these trips. It’s a great thing.”
And Johnson certainly doesn’t get tired of the top-shelf treatment he’s received eight times in the last 11 years…
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