Third time a charm, as veteran Witt coaches in last game
By Jim Hague
As the team he had coached for 22 years was winning its third straight Kearny Little League championship, Joe Witt had mixed emotions.
Witt, who has been the head coach of Rick’s Auto Body, the closest thing to a dynasty that can be found on the Little League level, told his team after they defeated Lee’s Florist in two straight games in the best-of-three championship series that his tenure was over. He was going to coach next season in North Arlington to coach his own son.
“At the end, there was a lot of sadness,” Witt said. “It was very emotional. For me to go out on the field that I once played on was very special.”
His team gave Witt another championship as a parting gift.
In years past, it was almost predestined that Rick’s Auto Body would win the Kearny Little League crown. No team worked harder. No organization went about building a champion the way Witt did, taking a host of younger players and molding them into successful baseball players by the time they reached 12 years old.
But Rick’s Auto Body lost seven players to graduation after last year’s championship run.
“A lot of people said that it was the last time we would win,” Witt said. “But we knew we still had a good team. We always went with 9-year-old kids and by the time they were 12, they were studs. We practice every day. Even if it rains, we’re looking for some place to have a practice.”
That takes a special breed of youngster to endure such an intense practice regimen.
“We tell them right from the start what we do,” Witt said. “I think it helps when you have a reputation of being a good team. The kids all want to play for Rick’s, so they don’t mind the practices. Other teams hate us, but if you want to play and learn how to play good baseball, if you want to get better, you’ll be there every day. We always get kids who want to play. They’re into it 100 percent.”
The players understand. “Coach Witt and the other coaches really helped me become a better player,” said 12-year-old pitcher/first baseman Luis Alfieri. “He’s a really great coach. It’s not just me. He helped everyone out.”
“I had five years practice with the team, so this year meant a lot to me,” said fellow 12-year-old Ryan Watson, the team’s best player. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be able to do half the things I’m able to do now as a player. It means a lot to have great coaches.”
Rick’s Auto Body had its share of talented players as well.
Watson, who served as the team’s No. 1 pitcher, hit 12 homers during the regular season, three in the championship series alone. Teams tried all season to pitch away from Watson, but he continued to deliver.
“He’s the best player in town,” Witt said. “When Ryan hits them, he hits them. He’s that good of a player. He also plays catcher and first base.”
Watson was asked if he was surprised with his home run total.
“I am surprised how far I hit them,” Watson said. “Luis and I are just two strong kids.”
Alfieri was able to hit nine homers this season. He was the team’s No. 2 pitcher, giving Rick’s a potent 1-2 punch on the mound and at the plate. Both Watson and Alfi eri have been part of all three Rick’s Auto Body championships.
Rauly Cordero, who also played shortstop, is another veteran member of the team with three championships under his belt.
“He’s the fastest kid I’ve ever coached,” Witt said.
The fourth pitcher also doubled as the team’s catcher. He’s also the coach’s nephew, Travis Witt. Witt’s older brother, T.J. is a member of the Kearny High School varsity baseball and wrestling teams and he’s also a catcher.
“Being able to share this with my uncle makes it even more special,” Travis Witt said. “I thought we had a good chance to win again this year because we had all those good power hitters and good pitching.”
While Alfieri and Watson shared the first base duties, 10-year-old Ryan Goresh and 9-year-old Eddie Lora handled the second base chores. Cordero was the main shortstop, with 10-year-old Jason Mc- Chesney playing third.
The outfield consisted of Ricardo Miguel and Brandon Rodrigues in left, with Justin Baldwin in center and Helder Cerqueira and Andrew Martinez in right.
Baldwin is an interesting story, because he never played organized baseball before this season.
“But he came up with some big hits for us,” Witt said. “Rodrigues is a 10-year-old with a very bright future.”
Rick’s defeated Lee’s Florist, 13-3 in the opening game, then clinched the title with a 5-2 win.
Witt received assistance in coaching from Dan Watson, Craig Smith, Frank Goresh and Jimmy Mullen.
“The team had a lot of heart,” Witt said. “Everyone wrote us off, said we were done. But we came through once again.”
Ready for this statistic? Over the last three championship seasons, Rick’s Auto Body had a combined record of 55-3.
That’s a dominant dynasty, no question.
“I don’t remember seeing anything like it in Kearny,” Witt said. “To have that kind of record over three years is very impressive.”
“I was there for four years with Rick’s and won three championships,” Ryan Watson said. “It was thought to be impossible for Kearny Little League. We lost seven players from last year, but we still came back and won. It definitely will give me a lot of confi dence when I go on to play in high school.”
Watson is only in eighth grade, much like some of his teammates. But it certainly means a bright future for the Kearny High School program in the years to come. At least, they have winning down pat already. “It was really a nice way to go out,” Witt said.
“It really was a year to remember.”
For all involved with the Kearny Little League dynasty, that’s for sure.