Jayden Diaz is a nine-year-old fourth grader at Kearny’s Franklin School.
But young Jayden wanted to learn more about the game of baseball _ so he asked his parents if he could attend the Viking Baseball Camp at Rip Collins Field in North Arlington.
“I wanted to learn more,” said Diaz, an infielder/outfielder for Kearny Federal Savings in the Kearny Little League. “I really like playing baseball. I just like playing.”
Diaz was one of 25 or so youngsters who spent last week learning with North Arlington High School baseball coach Paul Marcantuono.
“I learned about throwing the ball the right way, about holding the ball the right way,” Diaz said. “I learned how to grab it. It’s helping me become a better baseball player.”
Diaz was not alone in the learning process.
Jeremiah Zakhary is also 9, a fifth grader at North Arlington’s Jefferson School.
“I really have a lot of fun playing baseball,” Zakhary said. “I’m just here every day, seeing my friends, the ones I play Little League with.”
Zakhary is currently on the Angels, where he pitches and plays shortstop.
“Since my friends are here, it’s a good way to start the summer,” Zakhary said.
Robert Kairys is a 10-year-old fifth grader from North Arlington who also attends Jefferson School. He plays for the A’s and is a pitcher, catcher and second baseman.
“I learned out to take the steps properly to get ready to field a ground ball,” said Kairys, who is a Mets fan and a Noah Syndergaard fan. “This has been a lot of fun. It’s amazing and fantastic that we have it here in North Arlington. It’s fantastic because I’ve learned a lot and can play a lot. Once we got off from school, I knew I’d be playing baseball. I can do something for once instead of just sitting around. Baseball is my favorite sport and I’m learning to like it more.”
Liam Farrell-Ingham is a 10-year-old from North Arlington who will enter fifth grade at Jefferson School. He is a teammate of Kairys on the A’s in North Arlington Little League.
“I really wanted to go, because it sounded like a fun time,” Farrell-Ingham said. “Some of my friends are here, so that made me want to be here. I got to play on the bigger field (Rip Collins as opposed to the Little League complex next door) and that was pretty cool.”
Farrell-Ingham is a Yankee fan whose favorite player is Chase Headley.
“This encourages me to play more baseball,” Farrell-Ingham said. “I know what I have to do to get better. I have to learn how to field and throw.”
Jared Velazquez is a 13-year-old from North Arlington who will attend eighth grade at the Middle School this fall. He’s a member of the North Arlington Senior Little League.
“I play first base predominately,” Velazquez said. “But I do manage to play all the positions. I get around.”
Velazquez was asked what he was taught more than anything else over the week’s camp.
“I learned fielding basics,” said Velazquez, who is a Yankee fan, but his favorite player is Bryce Harper. “I learned how to properly lead off first base to get a head start when running.”
Velazquez said that he had a lot of fun at the camp.
“It’s been great for me,” Velazquez said. “I learned a lot. I hope to get scouted and go on to bigger and better things.”
That’s fair enough.
Lucas Hughes is a 14-year-old freshman entering North Arlington High in the fall. Hughes was getting his first taste of what it would be like to play for coach Marcantuono.
“It’s never too early to start developing a relationship,” Hughes said. “I will do whatever I can to get a spot on the high school team. I love playing baseball. I play basketball as well as football. But baseball is my sport. I’ll play anywhere on the field that you need me.”
Hughes is a Yankee fan, but his favorite player is New Jersey native Mike Trout.
“I play centerfield and try to model my game after him,” Hughes said. “I’m just trying to get a head start here into high school and can always try to become a better player.”
Marcantuono likes the way the campers all say the same thing regardless of age _ that they love to play baseball and will do anything to get better.
“That’s refreshing,” Marcantuono said. “I keep teaching the simple things. Having younger kids around makes it always good to remind me of what I’m teaching. I teach the same thing from the little kids to the varsity.”
Marcantuono likes the way the little ones soak up the knowledge.
“It’s fun for me, because when you have little kids, they’re like sponges,” Marcantuono said. “They take everything in, then go home and practice it. I like to see the kids who get better in the course of a week. They use the information they get here, then go and use that information in their real games.”
Marcantuono said that he does see some budding superstars in the group.
“I do see some potential,” Marcantuono said. “We’re trying to get more numbers, but we have good kids who listen, work hard and want to learn. Any time I get to coach the sport of baseball, I’m going to do it. It’s a good way for them to start their summer.”
It was also a good way for some of Marcantuono’s players to get a head start on their summer training program. A handful of the Vikings served as counselors for the camp, giving the younger ones someone to look up to.
All in all, it was a good week of baseball at Rip Collins, a good way to start the summer months.
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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.”