The North Arlington High School baseball team suffered through some tough times a year ago, posting a 9-15 record.
As head coach Paul Marcantuono begins his seventh season with the Vikings, he knows where the future of his program lies.
“We’re starting six sophomores,” Marcantuono said. “I like being young. Young doesn’t necessarily mean bad. The kids have some talent. They’re challenging me and retaining so much that it’s making me teach new concepts. They also get along with each other so well.”
Marcantuono also has five players who saw significant playing time a year ago, so he has a good mix of talented youngsters with experienced veterans.
“I think this team will only continue to get better and better,” Marcantuono said.
There’s only been one obstacle – finding a place to play and practice. Since construction to overhaul Rip Collins Field has begun, it has forced the Vikings to be a little bit of a vagabond bunch.
“We’ve been all over the place to practice and play,” Marcantuono said. “We’ve been practicing at Matera Field (in Lyndhurst) at night in freezing temperatures. But that’s okay. It’s making them very strong.”
Leading the pitching staff is sophomore righthander Joel Silva.
“He’s gained a little more confidence since last year,” Marcantuono said. “He has good location with his pitches. He moves the ball in and out. He has a lot of poise on the mound. He also has a nice change-up. He has that ‘go get ‘em’ mentality and I like that. It’s only going to help him.”
Fellow sophomore Tim Ford is another key member of the pitching staff.
“He’s showed us a lot so far,” Marcantuono said. “We put him in some tough situations and he’s handled them well. He has three or four pitches he can throw for strikes.”
Sophomore Brian Costello is the lone left-hander among the pitching staff.
“He’s a little bigger and stronger than he was last year,” Marcantuono said. “I expect him to improve this year.”
Brian McKenna, who is one of the team’s lone seniors, is another right-hander who will see time on the mound.
“He throws hard,” Marcantuono said. “He can give us a few innings.”
Christian Castro is another pitcher, but he is also the team’s primary catcher, so it’s tough to get him on the mound.
Freshman Charles Kearney is another pitcher who has shown some promise in the preseason.
“He got people out in our scrimmages,” Marcantuono said. “He has a nice changeup and a nice curveball.”
Castro will be behind the plate, but when he takes the mound, promising sophomore Chris Giaquinto gets the nod.
“Giaquinto is working hard and is more like a work in progress,” Marcantuono said.
Sophomore Stephen Carey is a solid defensive catcher who will also see time behind the plate.
The first base duties will be shared by Costello and freshman Mike Rotondo.
Junior Anthony Rotondo, the older brother of Mike, is the team’s second baseman. Rotondo is one of the Viking captains.
“He has good hands and we’re going to rely on him a lot this year,” Marcantuono said. “He’s also a very smart kid.” Sophomore Manny Mora is the Vikings’ starting shortstop.
“He’s doing a wonderful job in the preseason,” Marcantuono said. “We gave him a few innings on the varsity last year and he handled that well. He makes every play. He may experience some bumps and bruises learning to play every day, but I expect him to do a solid job.”
McKenna is a three-year starter at third base who hit .450 last year.
“He led the team in extrabase hits and RBI,” Marcantuono said. “He’s our cleanup hitter. We need him to produce.”
Ford and sophomore Elias Aguilar are battling for time in left field. Silva is the centerfielder when he’s not on the mound. Giaquinto and Kearney are sharing time in right field.
Senior infielder Danny Yero and senior outfielder Endy Sanchez are key members of the Vikings’ bench.
“I think when you have a young team, you just have to get them on the field and see what happens,” Marcantuono said. “Some of these kids are going to suffer through some ups and downs and that’s expected. But we’re not going to use a designated hitter. We’re going to let the pitchers hit.” So Marcantuono will just wait and watch his young team mature.
“I spoke to my coaching staff about it,” Marcantuono said. “We have a bunch of sophomores and we have to take it in stride. We have to watch them become better. We have to be patient. We have to be positive, so we have to be able to pick them up when they get down. We’re also going to do our best job teaching these kids.”
The Vikings open their season this week against Paterson Charter at Breslin Field in Lyndhurst, which has also received an upgrade with artificial FieldTurf.
The Vikings will also play some night games at Matera Field in Lyndhurst and some in Riverside County Park.
The Vikings will know a lot about themselves after the first week, after facing Becton Regional, Saddle Brook and neighboring rival Lyndhurst at the Lyndhurst Recreation facility Saturday at noon.
“They’re getting better every day and I’m proud of them,” Marcantuono said.
Pride and patience – sounds like the making of a brilliant novel.