North Arlington Recreation softball team enjoys competitive summer

In his heyday as an athlete, Mike “Whitey” Krawczyk was about as good of a baseball player as there ever was in his native Jersey City.

Krawczyk was a three-time All-Hudson County selection during his playing days, first at St. Michael’s in Jersey City and later St. Joseph of the Palisades in West New York, two schools that have since closed its doors permanently.

“There are only a few people left who remember me as ‘Whitey,’” said Krawczyk, who has lived in North Arlington for the last 25 years. “The ones who know me as ‘Whitey’ are Jersey City people.”

After a brief stint in professional baseball, Krawczyk moved on to the construction business and currently serves as a project manager.

But in his free time, Krawczyk serves as the travel coordinator for the North Arlington Recreation Softball program and coaches the town’s 14-and-under travel team.

Krawcyzk started coaching softball to keep up with his talented daughter Danica.

“My boys didn’t pick up a baseball,” Krawczyk said. “My daughter is the athlete in the family. Because of her, I got into softball.”

Krawczyk started to put together a North Arlington softball team back in November, preparing for what he believed to be a successful 2020 campaign.

“We have a new turf field (at the North Arlington softball complex at Allen Park on Schuyler Avenue),” Krawczyk said. “Because of it, we were able to do winter workouts. We have batting cages in the main garage near the field. With my construction expertise, I was able to do it for the kids.”

Everything was all set – and in early March, the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic hit, putting a complete halt on all athletic activities.

“I know we had some girls from the high school team that wanted to play,” Krawczyk said. “But everything was up in the air the whole time.”

Krawczyk had no idea what the summer months meant for his program.

“When Gov. Murphy said we could move forward with Phase 1 (of the state’s social distancing plan), then we were ready. The Recreation department waited until the last minute to get this team together.”

If the girls were willing to play, they had to sign a waiver that stated if they contracted the coronavirus COVID-19, the town could not be held liable.

“We spoke to the parents and spoke to the kids about the safety rules we had to play under,” Krawczyk said. “We did everything that the CDC (Center for Disease Control) said we had to do.”

The team had to make sure that the only people even touching their softballs were the players on the team. If they hit a ball out of play, and someone brought it back later, that ball was deemed unsafe for use.

“We made sure that no one else touched the ball,” Krawczyk said. “We had a team mother that took care of everything.”

Cessy Espinosa was the angel in shining armor, making sure that everything was done with safety in mind.

“She checked temperatures with a gauge as soon as the girls got to the field,” Krawczyk said. “She sanitized the balls and the bats. She would spray the bats every two innings. We made sure everything was legit. We made sure we wiped the balls down with Lysol (wipes).”

Krawczyk said that there was another safety protocol that was a must.

“We made sure that they kept their masks on,” Krawczyk said. “After the first game, we got into a good routine. The girls all knew what they had to do.”

So while many other leagues and teams were stuck at home, Krawczyk had the North Arlington Recreation girls playing in the Bergen County Summer Softball League with teams like Ramsey, Glen Rock, Fair Lawn and even a Passaic County softball power in Clifton.

Krawczyk’s team was made up of eighth graders and freshmen in high school.

“It’s definitely a good sign for the future,” Krawczyk said.

The North Arlington team completed play last week with a highly competitive 5-5 record. North Arlington was the smallest municipality in the league, but it didn’t matter, because the locals played with a lot of heart, knowing that they were representing their hometown in the process.

“Incredibly, these girls were ready to play,” Krawczyk said. “They did a lot of the work on their own, throwing and hitting on their own. Some were hitting off a tee and throwing into a net. These girls know how to take care of themselves. And they had fun doing it.”

Krawczyk said that the 5-5 record in the league was not really indicative of how well they played.

“They were a very young team, but you could see the maturity of these girls rise,” Krawczyk said. “They competed. Sure, they made mistakes, but they wanted to correct their mistakes.”

Krawczyk had a deep pitching staff, featuring Maria Gutierrez, Gabriella Weiss and Shae Males.

“They all threw hard,” Krawczyk said. “They were working on other pitches.”

Weiss became the team’s No. 1 pitcher based on her ability to throw strikes.

“She had very good control,” Krawczyk said.

Grace Alho, the younger sister of North Arlington super athlete Tony Alho, is the team’s catcher – much like her brother is for the NA baseball team.

“She’s good back there,” Krawczyk said. “She’s a good defensive catcher with a strong arm. She’s well developed.”

Krawczyk said that Alho has worked diligently with volunteer assistant coach John Cristiano.

Julia Sanchez is the team’s first baseman. Sanchez plays for Kearny High during the high school season.

“She’s a power hitter, our cleanup hitter,” Krawczyk said. “She’s our leader in the field.”

Rhianna Gomez is the team’s second baseman.

“She’s an all-around good player,” Krawczyk said. “She’s a great hitter with a strong arm. She has developed nicely as a player.”

Jaeda Figueroa is the team’s shortstop.

“She’s the one to watch in Kearny,” Krawczyk said. “She’s our leadoff hitter. She can run and steal bases.”

Gabby Kaminski and Males share the third base duties.

Alexa Paparrelli and Izayne Moya are the team’s centerfielders, with Marissa Bunnell in left field and Elisa Fernandez in right field. Stephanie Bianchini is a right fielder/second baseman and Lauren Velazquez is a first baseman/designated hitter.

Marissa Piscal, a former North Arlington High School slugger who went on to have a fine career at Montclair State, is an assistant coach on the team.

Needless to say, it turned out to be a summer to remember, despite the pandemic.

“We’re just glad to we were able to get our season in,” Krawczyk said. “We got a chance to play on our new field and our seniors got a chance to play together again.”

In today’s day and age, that’s really all one can ask for.

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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.”