Talk about your classic case of “No room for the weary.”
On Saturday afternoon, the Kearny High School baseball team won a thrilling 1-0 game against Dickinson of Jersey City, scoring a run in the bottom of the seventh on a walk-off RBI single from Thomas McAndrew to advance to the quarterfinals of the Ed “Faa” Ford Memorial Hudson County Tournament.
Corey Sawyer, last week’s Observer Athlete of the Week, pitched another great game for the Kardinals, firing the complete game shutout, allowing just two hits, walking two, striking out nine and hitting a batter, all in just 65 pitches.
Instead of having time to relax and savor the victory, the Kardinals were hard at work Sunday morning, helping their coach Frank Bifulco and his staff to organize a free youth baseball clinic at Franklin Field.
Close to 50 youngsters participated in the three-hour clinic, which concluded with each youngster getting a chance to hit pitches tossed by Bifulco.
But it was a day for the high school team to show a little different side of themselves.
“I’m happy for our team,” Bifulco said. “They were really excited about this clinic. They kept asking about it for the last two weeks. I was happy and proud that they were all there. Because it’s not all about baseball. We stress that it’s not just baseball, but we also stress that it’s giving back to the community. Our players were excited to be there to help the little kids. It makes them feel better to give back.”
Take Sawyer for example. Of course, he was happy with his performance on Saturday.
“We get a chance to move on and play more baseball,” Sawyer said of the victory that propels the Kardinals to the county tourney quarterfinals and a showdown with top-seeded St. Peter’s Prep. “Everything was working for me. My slider, curve, changeup and fastball were all working well. I’d like to say that I was at my best.”
But there was no chance Sawyer was going to miss out on the opportunity to work with the youngsters.
“We didn’t have anything like this when I was little,” Sawyer said. “I wish we had the high school team teaching us. It’s fun teaching them. I don’t know if they look up to me, but I’m just glad I could help.”
One of the kids participating in the clinic was Sawyer’s 7-year-old sister Riley Johnson. She was determined to be one of the boys. A second grader at Garfield School, little Riley is proud to say she’s a Yankee fan and that she loves baseball almost as much as she loves her brother.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Riley Johnson said. “It makes me want to play more baseball.”
One of the best coaches of the day was current Kardinal utility man Sammy Sanchez, who took the time to help the youngsters with their batting stances and approach at the plate. Sanchez was a marvel to watch, as he had every kid hanging on every word he said.
“It’s a great experience,” Sanchez said. “It’s always good to work with little kids. It’s good to give back to the community.”
“We were trying to give them a little bit to use during their current seasons,” Bifulco said. “Maybe they left with one or two things they can use. But this showed that our kids could work well with the little kids. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way. It’s worth a million dollars.”
Lorenzo Rodriguez is a 7-year-old second-grader from Washington School.
“I had a lot of fun here,” Rodriguez said. “I learned how to put the glove under your head on pop-ups.”
Sure helps to do that, no?
“It means a lot to me to have the players here,” Rodriguez said. “I like being with them.”
Jayden Rodriguez (no relation) is an 8-year-old second grader at Roosevelt School.
“It was mostly fun,” Rodriguez said. “I learned everything today, but mostly catching.”
Kristina Urbina is a 7-year-old second grader from Franklin School. She was one of only three girls in attendance. Kristina recovered from a minor injury she suffered to her hand in time to take batting practice.
“It doesn’t bother me that there aren’t a lot of girls here,” Urbina said. “I can prove that I can play just like the boys. This is the first year that I played baseball and I really liked it. I’m still learning, so this was good for me. It meant a lot to me to have the high school players teaching me.”
Sanchez worked with Urbina on her swing for a good portion of the clinic.
Lily May is only a 5-year-old, but she wanted to be there Sunday.
“I like playing baseball,” May said. “I just like playing.”
That’s sweet music to the ears of Bifulco.
“It was great to see,” Bifulco said. “It really was a pleasant weekend.”
The Kardinals improved to 12-12 overall and now face the top-seeded Marauders.
“We’re prepared for whatever is left of our season,” Bifulco said. “This is to the credit of the 18-or-19 guys that I have on the team. I’m proud of them. There are no other words to be said. I’m proud of every single one of them.”
The Kards made themselves proud with their turnout helping the kids at the clinic. It was a great sign of community involvement.
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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.”