Joe Chew has been coaching Little League baseball in Kearny for the last 22 years. Chew is also one of the driving forces for the highly respected Kearny Recreation wrestling program for two decades as well. He’s dedicated his life to helping the youngsters of Kearny become better citizens through sports.
But in all those years coaching in the Kearny Little League, Chew never had the chance to head a champion.
Chew has been the head coach of Mid-Realty in the Kearny Little League for the last five years. Chew also serves as the vice-president of the Kearny Little League.
But Chew never won it all.
Until two weeks ago, when Chew guided Mid-Realty to their first victory in the Kearny Little League World Series. Mid-Realty capped an incredible undefeated season, going 16-0.
“I knew we had a couple of good pitchers,” Chew said. “I thought we had a chance to be pretty good. But I wasn’t expecting to go 16-0. I knew there were a few other teams in the league that were pretty good.”
But no team in the league had the pitching depth that Chew had with Mid-Realty.
“I knew we had five pitchers,” Chew said. “I never had that much pitching depth. There were some years where we had three, maybe four pitchers. But this year, I had the pitching depth that could carry a team.”
Incredibly, Mid-Realty had 11 players on their roster – and five of those players are pitchers.
“Once I knew we were going to have a season, I knew we had a chance to be pretty good,” said Chew, who was concerned that the coronavirus COVID-19 would wipe out another Little League season. “I didn’t know how many teams we’d have.”
So Kearny Little League had seven teams housed in one division.
“The numbers were down because of the pandemic,” Chew said. “I knew that some parents were concerned.”
But having a brand new field to play on had to be a lure. Gunnell Oval has been completely renovated and fitted with FieldTurf. It really is a sight to behold.
“Every time I drive to Gunnell Oval, I say to myself that I can’t believe this is in Kearny,” Chew said. “It really is something else.”
So was Chew’s team.
Leading the way was 12-year-old right-handed pitcher Sebastian Santana, who posted an impressive 7-0 record during the regular season.
“He pitched a no-hitter and a perfect game,” Chew said of Santana. “He has a good fastball and a change-up. He’s a strike-throwing machine. He throws the ball hard and in the strike zone. I still believe catcher is his best position.”
Jon Rocco is an 11-year-old right-hander who is also a promising wrestler.
“He’s all about control,” Chew said of Rocco. “He’s not overpowering. He uses all of his 65 pounds to throw it by people.”
Rocco posted a 4-0 record this season.
Jake Corbett is a 12-year-old left-hander who is another crafty hurler.
“He throws nothing hard, but he throws strikes,” Chew said. “He had very few walks all season. He just puts it in there and lets his defense do their job.”
Michael Pickard is another 12-year-old right-hander.
“This was his first year of pitching,” Chew said. “He was a little wild at times early in the season, but he fought through it and found the strike zone. He was very tough mentally.”
Mike Faulk is a 9-year-old playing with and against kids who are three years older. Faulk doesn’t care.
“He really is a tough kid,” Chew said of Faulk. “He pitched two extra inning games and got us wins in both games. When he’s on the mound, you can see his competitiveness. He is super competitive. I’m glad I will get this kid for three more years.”
The team’s catchers are Santana, Rocco and Faulk.
“I never had three catchers before,” Chew said. “We’re used to struggling to get one catcher and this year we had three. We were able to move them around.”
Pickard was the team’s first baseman, unless he was pitching, then it was Corbett to fill in. Pickard had a huge three-run triple Game 1 of the best-of-three World Series against Joe’s Deli.
The team had a few people to play second base, namely Zachary Chaves, Corbett and T.J. Ramadan. Chaves and Ramadan are 9-year-olds.
“I was always told that in order to win, you needed 9-year-olds to do well,” Chew said. “Well, that’s what we had. All of them came through in the clutch.”
The team had another Ramadan, namely imposing centerfielder Abe Ramadan, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 210 pounds as a 12-year-old.
“He’s a good hitter,” Chew said of the older and much taller Ramadan brother. “He hit two homers in the regular season and hit a two-run homer against Joe’s Deli that sealed the deal.”
Mid-Realty won Game 2 of the World Series by a score of 8-4 in seven innings.
The team’s shortstops were Santana, Rocco and Pickard.
“Santana is the best hitter on the team,” Chew said. “He’s also a good fielder. He has a big-time future. He also plays baseball all year.”
The third baseman is Izeal Moya, who is an 11-year-old player.
“He’s a solid player who plays a good third base,” Chew said. “He puts the ball in play. He’s a reliable base runner.”
Moya’s younger brother, Iziekiel, who is nine years old, plays left field.
“He started off slow, but really improved as the season went on,” Chew said. “He’s probably the most improved player on the team. I’m really looking forward working with him next year.”
Another left fielder is nine-year-old Nali Juarez, who is a girl.
“She was very shy in the beginning of the season,” Chew said. “I was worried when the ball was hit to her. But she’s a tough kid who became one of the boys. She fit right in and got some big hits.”
Juarez delivered a clutch hit to defeat Rick’s Auto Body, one of the perennial contenders in the Kearny Little League.
The much larger Ramadan was in centerfield and some of the 9-year-olds shared the duties in right.
“I was really impressed with our 9-year-olds,” Chew said. “They all improved by leaps and bounds. They all delivered some clutch hits and made the plays in the field. It’s more than what I could have asked for.”
Chew said that he had a blast coaching this team.
“The kids had fun every day,” Chew said. “I’d walk over to the field and there were already five Mid-Realty kids playing. They got there early just to play. That’s what it’s all about. The kids all got along real well. They worked extremely hard and it all paid off in the end. My mentor (the late, great Kearny High and Kearny Recreation wrestling coach) Tony Carratura used to always tell me that the kids have to have fun first and everything else comes second. I’m just following his lead.”
And how about Chew finally getting that elusive championship?
“We had a good team for plenty of years,” Chew said. “For five years in a row, we ran into Doug Gogal (the resident baseball guru in Kearny) and Arlington Pizza in the playoffs. They just had our number. This whole season, I’ll never forget it. I don’t remember a team ever going undefeated before. No one can take that away from us.”
Chew’s assistant coaches were Joe Rocco, Isaac Moya and Mike Faulk. Chew credited the sponsor as well.
“They took great care of us at Mid-Realty,” Chew said. “If we ever needed anything, they gave it to us. They took us all to Applebee’s. They would come down, watch our games and cheer us on. I can’t thank them enough.”
While we’re on the subject of thanks, I had a nasty fall Monday morning and needed assistance from the Kearny police department, the Kearny fire department and the Kearny EMTs to get me up and make sure that I was fine. I had a few nicks and bruises, but if I didn’t have the help of Kearny firefighters Steven Yerkes, Dan Gurkas, Captains George Harris and Doug Boyle, the best neighbor anyone could ever ask for, and EMTs Michael Yuknalis and Nicholas Golay, I might have been lying there on my bathroom floor for hours on end. That crew took great care of me and I can’t thank them enough.
Mid-Realty won the Kearny Little League World Series, defeating Joe’s Deli in straight games to cap an undefeated 16-0 season. Front row, from left, are Nali Juarez, Iziekiel Moya, Mike Faulk, Zachary Chaves, Jon Rocco and T.J. Ramadan. Middle row, from left, are Mike Pickard, Jack Corbett, Abe Ramadan, Sebastián Santana, and Izeal Moya. Back row, from left, are manager Joe Chew, Coach Joe Rocco, Coach Isaac Moya and Coach Mike Faulk. Photo courtesy of Joe Chew.
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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.”