Lyndhurst American Legion Post 139: A tradition of baseball success

Every summer since 1931, the Lyndhurst American Legion Post 139 has sponsored a baseball team. The Post 139 baseball team has enjoyed a history of summer success, including perennial trips to the state tournament, including a state championship a decade ago and two other East Regional champions.

Jim Fitzgerald is a product of the summer program. A Lyndhurst High School graduate in 2012, Fitzgerald went on to play baseball at Bergen County Community College, then had a stint at the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff before finishing his collegiate career at Kean a few years ago.

But Fitzgerald always had his heart with the Lyndhurst Legion Post 139 squad.

“It was always a dream of mine to coach this team,” said the 24-year-old Fitzgerald, who was tabbed by former manager Mike Voza to take over the reins of the program this summer. “Mike Voza always said that he would pass the team on down to me and he asked me this year if I was ready to do it. I jumped right on it.”

Fitzgerald currently trains a lot of college baseball players, so he felt he was ready for the challenge of taking over the Lyndhurst Legion squad.

“I take a lot of being a product of the Post,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m very passionate about it. I just want to be able to try to get the program back to the way it once was and to get a ring on my finger and another ring on (Lyndhurst American Legion Post 139 icon) Jerry Sparta’s finger. I also look at it as a chance to build up my resume, because I would love to coach college baseball someday.”

The Lyndhurst Legion Post 139 roster is filled with Lyndhurst youngsters. In years past, there would be players from the surrounding area, but this year, with the exception of two players from Montclair, the rest of the team hails right from Lyndhurst.

“When you start a team, you have to make sure you have the right 18 players,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m happy with the team we have. We’re trying to develop a college mentality together. I take this team very seriously and I want players that do the same.”

Fitzgerald has a very young roster. In years past, there would be a host of college players on the team, provided they fit in the 19-and-under age qualifications.

But this year, the Post 139 roster is packed with high school kids.

“We have a bunch of great kids who show up every day and play hard,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s all that I can ask for. We have some who are sophomores in high school going up against college guys. But we’re giving these young kids a chance to play this summer. It’s giving them experience that is almost better than high school varsity.”

Fitzgerald said that he has a solid coaching staff, highlighted by brother Andrew, who is the team’s pitching coach, as well as Frank Paparozzi and long-time Lyndhurst baseball coach Terry Thiappa.

Post 139 has posted a 4-3 record thus far heading into this weekend’s District championships with a berth in the New Jersey American Legion state championships on the line.

“We haven’t had the chance to play a lot of baseball this season,” Fitzgerald said, bemoaning the fact that there aren’t a lot of American Legion baseball programs like there once was. “It’s been hard to get in a rhythm not playing a lot of games. We’re trying to build our program and make our program better.”

Fitzgerald was asked what the best trait of his team was.

“We hit the ball unbelievably,” Fitzgerald said. “From one through seven in our order, we have one of the best hitting teams around. Our hitting has been strong.”

The team’s catcher is Isaac Figueroa, who will be a junior at Lyndhurst High next year.

“He’s developing into his own groove,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s swinging the bat well and has been doing a great job behind the plate. He has a strong arm and is developing his baseball IQ.”

The team’s other catcher is a historic one. It’s Alexia Jorge, who is the first female to ever play for the Lyndhurst Post 139 varsity program.

“She’s doing incredibly well,” Fitzgerald said. “She’s the toughest player I have. She’s competitive and handles everything well. She wants to play baseball.”

Alexia Jorge also serves as the team’s closer, throwing her patented knuckleball.

“She’s the most competitive kid on the field,” Fitzgerald said. “She wants the ball all the time. She’s the first one on the field every game.”

First base duties are held by Nicholas Fitzgerald, the recent Lyndhurst High graduate and younger brother of the manager and pitching coach. So it’s an all in the family feel with the squad. The younger Fitzgerald is committed to play football at Albright College in the fall.

Gabe Morales also sees time at first base or designated hitter.

“Both are usually in the lineup,” the elder Fitzgerald said.

Second base is held by A.J. Zaccareo, who is one of two brothers who hail from Montclair.

“He’s one of our top run producers,” Fitzgerald said. “He hit a grand slam against Passaic last week.”

The shortstop is Lyndhurst High School junior Sean Leonard, whom Fitzgerald loves as a player.

Third base duties are handled by Kevin Zaccareo, the older brother of the two.

Left field duties are held by Michael D’Alia, who is another Lyndhurst High products.

“He’s really quick and gets to the ball quickly,” Fitzgerald said.

Bill Mariana is the centerfielder.

“He’s a kid who goes all out every play,” Fitzgerald said. “He will run through the fence for you. He makes plays all over, running and diving.”

The regular right fielder is Ryan St. Leger.

The pitching staff is anchored by recent Lyndhurst two-sport standout Nick Cutola, who will play baseball at Richard Stockton in the fall.

“He gets tougher as the game goes on,” Fitzgerald said. “He just recently shut down a good Lodi team.”

Cutola’s younger brother, Joe, is another pitcher on the team, as is righty Joe Terrana.

“Terrana throws hard and throws strikes,” Fitzgerald said.

Victor Jorge, Alexia’s older brother, is another pitcher and outfielder on the team.

Sebastian Cabrera is a designated hitter and infielder who finds his way into the lineup.

“He hits the ball a mile,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s a dangerous bat.”

Jacob Morris is a third baseman with a slick fielding glove. Jason Swayze is a right fielder and Michael Vasquez is a catcher and first baseman.

The Post 139 squad will play four games this week prior to the District tourney.

“I think we’re going to go there and compete,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

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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.”