By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
It’s not called “The Tournament” for nothing.
For the last quarter century, Lyndhurst has hosted a junior Little League tournament for youngsters aged seven-andeight years old, giving these aspiring diamond dandies their first true taste of competitive baseball.
From June 26 through the end of July, 17 teams from all over northern New Jersey converge on Lyndhurst’s premier Little League facility off the banks of the Passaic River for some thrilling baseball action. It’s perhaps the biggest tournament of its kind found anywhere.
Locally, there is a fine representation from two teams from Lyndhurst, as well as one from North Arlington and one from Kearny.
And it’s more than just a baseball tournament.
Organizers, like tournament director Dave Rehbein, try to make the tourney as much fun as possible for the participants and fans alike.
“This is their true introduction to baseball, so we want to encourage the kids to keep playing,” Rehbein said. “We want to make it fun.”
Aside from the baseball action, there are countless raffles throughout the tournament. There are baseball gloves to be won, but even more impressively, there are raffles for 22 bicycles.
“We take the money we raise from our 50-50s and buy the bikes,” Rehbein said. “We have other things that are donated. For my standpoint, I love watching the young kids, because it’s all new to them. You see the smiles on their faces and all of the work we do is well worth it.”
In the past, there have been as many as 22 teams that participate in the double-elimination tournament. This year, the number has been trimmed to 17.
“We could have had more,” Rehbein said. “I get calls from all over, wanting to bring teams in, but we don’t want to make it too big.”
It’s the 11th time that Rehbein has run the tourney.
“It never gets to be a problem, because everyone loves watching these kids play,” Rehbein said.
There has even been a celebrity watch at the games in Lyndhurst.
One of the teams in contention is Englewood Cliffs, which has a player Dylan Gooden. Yes, Dylan is the son of former Mets and Yankees pitching ace Dwight “Doc” Gooden and the former Cy Young Award winner has been at his son’s games, graciously greeting the fans who recognize him.
“He’s been here two or three times and he’s been signing baseballs, provided they don’t interfere with him watching his son play,” Rehbein said.
Dan Watson is the coordinator for all 7-and-8-year-old baseball in Kearny.
“It’s a great tournament,” Watson said. “Dave is a great guy and everything is for the kids. It’s stressed that it’s for the kid. Imagine that they’re able to raffle off bikes for the kids. There’s something to win every single game. I love the tournament and will never leave as long as it’s played. It’s good competition for the kids and it’s fun for them. As they move on, they will always remember playing in the tournament. As they move up to Little League next year, they already have a little taste of what they’re going to see.”
Watson said that Kearny has participated in the tourney for the last six years.
Anthony Farinhas is the coach of the Kearny entry in the tourney.
“I’ve enjoyed coaching this team tremendously,” Farinhas said. “You want the kids to learn something about the game and this is such a tremendous experience for them. They get to compete against other teams from other towns and see the other competition at such an early age.”
Farinhas said that he wanted to compile a team that featured kids who want to play the game.
“You want to have kids who have the passion to play and that makes me enjoy it more,” Farinhas said. “They are soaking it all up like a sponge. If they have the passion at an early age, it only helps as they progress.”
Farinhas said that his team represents the future of Kearny baseball.
His son, Anthony Jr. has been one of the team’s top pitchers, having struck out 50 batters so far. Anthony Schimenti is another promising pitcher and Adam Juchnik, who also plays shortstop, has the potential to be a great one someday.
A pair of twins occupies catcher and first base for Kearny. Jonathan Muller is the first baseman, while Matthew is the catcher.
“Matthew is an outstanding catcher with a great demeanor behind the plate,” Farinhas said. “He’s always very calm back there. I love his demeanor.”
Tranton Witt, the younger brother of Kearny standout T.J., is the second baseman.
“He’s a very aggressive player,” Farinhas said.
Juchnik spends most of his time at shortstop.
“He’s a very good player and he’s very vocal,” Farinhas said. “He probably has the most experience of anyone on the team.”
Billy McChesney is the third baseman.
“He hits the ball a ton,” said Farinhas of McChesney, who also serves as the backup catcher.
Michael Ciardiello plays left field, but Ciardiello also sees time at third base. Eli Jablonski is the centerfielder and Chris Carson is in right field.
Kyle Antosh, Jonathan Hernandez and Nate Matthews are key reserves.
“These are the best eightyear- olds in Kearny and I guarantee that they will have a bright future in baseball,” said Farinhas, who has received assistance from Bobby Carson, Jim Muller, Chris Juchnik and Watson.
Other towns in the tourney include Garfield, Paramus, Hoboken, Teaneck, Wood- Ridge, Oradell, Rutherford, Little Ferry, North Bergen and Maywood.
Needless to say, it’s been a labor of love for the people in Lyndhurst, like league president Bob Laverty and committee members Mark Naseef, Terry Chiappa, John Berko and Nick Romito. A tip of the cap goes to recently retired Superintendent of Parks and Recreation Rick Pizzuti, who helped make the tournament successful. Pizzuti spent 42 years with the Parks and Recreation department in Lyndhurst.
There are countless others behind the scenes who make “The Tournament” as it is now readily known a success. And will continue to do so in the years to come.