The 2019 spring season began with a mixture of excitement and high hopes for the Brooklyn Tech Varsity Boys Baseball team, as they returned after having won two consecutive division titles in the previous two years.
It was certainly a busy season for the team, as senior players anxiously awaited college decisions, and the team as a whole tried to adjust to its ascent from the AA division of the previous three seasons to the AAA Southeastern division. After capping off a three-year run in which the team went a combined 39-8, the group appeared to be well prepared for the challenging task that awaited.
“Our mindset was to be competitive and take every game one step at a time. We had previously scrimmaged against Triple A teams and have won. We knew we had the talent to prove some teams wrong,” stated senior Jason Virasami.
Following a promising start in which the team won three of its first four games, the Engineers were finally introduced to the advanced competition in the AAA division. The group lost its next two games by a combined 20 runs to Grand Street Campus, the 2018 runner-up, and Susan Wagner High School, which finished the 2019 season with a 10-6 record.
Injuries to the team’s two best senior pitchers, Jackson Morris and Boubacar Basse, made the team’s transition to the new division even more difficult. The loss of these players caused Coach Rodriguez to make coaching adjustments to the team’s lineup ahead of games. Additionally, the loss of senior starting catcher Andy Santanella to an injury in the first inning of what Coach Rodriguez deemed a winnable game against Abraham Lincoln High School further stalled the team’s momentum in the regular season.
Despite jumping into a league with far more talented opponents while simultaneously dealing with injuries, many of the team’s players were frustrated with the state of their season. While Coach Rodriguez recognized that the team may have lost a few close games due to some of his decisions, he believed that he did what was best for the team.
“What I do is what’s best for the team and the team’s safety. It doesn’t always mean winning,” he stated. Being in the stacked AAA division, Rodriguez already was limited in his opportunities to play underclassmen, so he chose to allocate playing time to his younger players against weaker opponents. Although the 2019 season would be Rodriguez’s last as coach, he kept the team’s future interests in mind by giving freshmen and sophomores vital in-game experience.
While he thought that balancing playing time across a roster of 38 players would ultimately influence the team positively, many players on the team disagreed. One senior believed that games against Fort Hamilton, Staten Island Tech, and New Dorp were lost because of the coach’s choice to start underclassmen. According to this senior, “He talked to us before the [New Dorp game] about how we shouldn’t ever ask him about playing time and that he would rather us quit than ask him about that…and then he proceeded to start a bunch of kids that didn’t get much playing time…once he put some of the more experienced players in, we almost came back.” During the New Dorp game, two freshmen, one sophomore, and two juniors pitched in the first 1.1 innings and gave up five earned runs. For the next 4.2 innings, senior Zachary Gee allowed zero Earned Runs. One junior explained that “whenever we don’t do well with all seniors [in the lineup] he benches all of them and puts in the freshmen. But he doesn’t realize that some of the teams are genuinely better than us and we’re gonna lose games sometimes.”
One other freshman player understood that Mr. Rodriguez was trying to give younger athletes playing time, but according to him, “us underclassmen just wanted to win. It wasn’t fair to the seniors for us to come and take their spotlight.”
Rodriguez’s decision to play younger players more frequently this season also appeared to be inconsistent with his tactics in previous seasons, as one junior and one senior both confirmed that they had not received any playing time in their sophomore seasons. However, the senior also noted that Rodriguez had gotten better at dividing playing time as he gained coaching experience.
Despite the team’s distaste for some of these moves, Rodriguez staggered playing time to keep his players fresh and healthy. Multiple players on the team confirmed that safety was his greatest concern, and one senior claimed that “he was understanding of injuries, rested you if he wasn’t sure, and asked if you’d fully recovered before putting you in.” Additionally, during the final week of the regular season, Rodriguez elected to play younger players because the team had three games in the span of just four days. There were times where Coach Rodriguez did not have many alternatives due to the ineligibility or injuries of the team’s most talented seniors. The AAA division also forced the Engineers to face high-caliber pitching, which resulted in 23 of the 38 players not obtaining a hit during the season. Sometimes, Rodriguez made these adjustments because of the players’ struggles.
In addition to the issue of playing time, practices were another topic of contention. A freshman player acknowledged, “In season, we maybe had four or five practices. The lack of practices was more due to the many games you had in a short period of time. Still, other teams had practices had every single day.” One freshman claimed, “I don’t believe that the team practiced enough. We had maybe one a week…but it was definitely not as much as we would have liked.” One other senior held similar sentiments, as he stated, “In contrast to other teams, like Beacon or Millenium, who practiced every day, we weren’t, and we were scrimmaging instead.” This player appreciated the coach’s efforts to find scrimmages for the team, but he wished that the team had more time to practice and build chemistry.
On the other hand, the team did play 16 games in a span of less than two months of school, which did not allow for a significant amount of practice time. On the days that the team didn’t have competitive games, Coach Rodriguez wanted to give his players the opportunity to recharge their batteries and focus on their schoolwork; as someone who has taught at Brooklyn Tech for 24 years, he is aware of the daunting workload that this school presents.
The team also held practices in the offseason, which is not required of spring sports teams in the PSAL. When the weather permitted, Rodriguez ran practices starting in the beginning of September. Through November and December, the team had weightlifting from 3PM to 4:30PM every Wednesday and batting practice on the eighth floor gym before school from 6:30 AM to 8:00 AM. While describing the team’s practice schedule, Rodriguez added, “This means that Wednesdays in December, I would wake up at 5 am, be in school by 6 am, getting the batting cage set up by 6:30 am, work with the players until 8 am, then go teach my 1st period class at 8 am…This was more time that I volunteered that demonstrated my commitment to the team.”
Ultimately, the Engineers’ season ended in defeat, after the group lost 13-2 against seventh seeded George Washington High School. After the game, assistant coach Adrian Castano took the team into the outfield for an end of the season discussion. When the players returned to the dugout, they found Coach Rodriguez’s baseball pants in the garbage can. Even though players never saw Mr. Rodriguez physically throw out his pants, many team members were incredulous and disappointed by this action. “He did not speak to a single player after the playoff loss,” claimed one freshman. “He didn’t even bother to talk to the seniors which he had for four years,” added the player.
Rodriguez admitted that he threw away his pants following the game, and he was understanding of his player’s feelings about the last game, but he didn’t mean to disrespect his athletes. He was very frustrated by how the season ended, and with this game being the last of his coaching career at Tech, he didn’t find it unreasonable to throw away his pants at the end of the game.
The 2019 baseball season was a taxing one for the Brooklyn Tech seniors. However, the team did see improvement from the last time the squad was in the AAA division in 2014, when the Engineers were just 1-15. Mr. Rodriguez acknowledged that the team might have reached .500 had he started his seniors in those three critical games. But, he was willing to sacrifice the team’s regular season record for future development. “MROD knew that it was his last year, so he wanted to develop younger players,” one freshman stated. Hopefully, the future baseball team, and specifically the underclassmen, can use this season’s experiences to continue to adapt to the AAA division.