Jake Ramezzana was in a huge slump and he knew it.
“It was actually pretty hard on me,” said the Nutley High School junior. “It was getting to me. I was trying too hard and thinking too much.”
The result was a 4-for-25 slump that had Nutley head coach Bob Harbison thinking that maybe the time had come for a change.
“He had been struggling offensively, but I told him that he just had to stay patient,” Harbison said. “He was getting a little frustrated by it all.”
“I just had to go up there and relax,” Ramezzana said. “I knew what I could do. My teammates and coaches trust me. Coach Harbison showed a lot of faith in me.”
So before the Maroon Raiders faced Newark Academy last Monday, Ramezzana tried something different in the batting cages.
“I switched up my stance a little and dropped my hands,” Ramezzana said. “I shortened up my swing a little to try to make good contact. The first five pitches in batting practice felt really good. I said to myself, ‘This is going to be a good day.’ I felt good. My swing felt easier.”
That was good news, because Ramezzana had another thing on his hands that day. He was the starting pitcher against Newark Academy.
“If I had a bad at-bat, I might take that to the mound with me,” Ramezzana said. “I couldn’t let that happen. When I’m pitching, that has to be the main focus. But I always keep hitting in the back of my mind. I think it was more important for me to pitch well.”
There was another reason why Ramezzana’s start against Newark Academy was big, because there were some college scouts on hand to monitor Ramezzana’s progress.
“He throws the ball pretty hard,” Harbison said. “When he has command, he’s a good pitcher. He has good stuff.”
Ramezzana didn’t let anyone down with his performance last Monday. As a hitter, Ramezzana broke free with two homers and five RBI. As a pitcher, Ramezzana fired a three-hit, eight-strikeout performance on the mound for his first win of the season, as the Maroon Raiders won 10-0.
Ramezzana also laced an RBI single in the Raiders’ win over Belleville on Friday. For the week, he was 5-for-9 with six RBI. He had more hits in a week than he had all season.
For his efforts, Ramezzana has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“I was just too hard on myself,” Ramezzana said. “I just had to relax and try to help myself. I knew that I had to pitch well. It’s amazing the faith that Coach Harbison has in me. It’s brought out some confidence in me. It got me out of that slump. I’m glad he trusts me that much. It’s a huge weight off my shoulders. Once I got the first hit, it was almost surreal. I felt so good. It felt great to hit the ball that well. I hit it perfectly.”
Ramezzana has always been able to hit the ball. After all, he’s the kid that blasted 17 homers in a single season to set a Nutley Little League record, a record that still stands.
“Little League was the best,” Ramezzana said. “I wish I could do that all the time. That was the best. I’m glad I still have that record.”
So the talent was always there. It just needed to come out.
“He puts his time in to get better,” Harbison said. “The struggling part is not normal for him. He’s a very good hitter. He just got a little frustrated and he’s learning to handle that better. I gave him a few tough spots early in the season to see how he would handle it.”
As for the explosion?
“That’s the day that I hoped would happen for him,” Harbison said. “I knew he had it in him. He just has to stay connected to the ball, swing through the lower portion of the ball. He also needs to stay tall in the box. I’m hoping he can refer back to the Newark Academy. He has to refer to his repertoire and keep what defense we have intact.”
Ramezzana just wants to keep everything intact and not jinx a single thing.
“I’ve always wanted to play for Nutley baseball,” Ramezzana said. “I’m going to be much more relaxed now. I’m going to take my time, because this motivates me. I had the big game, now I just have to continue doing it.”
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”