(Good morning yesterday. You wake up, and time has slipped away. And suddenly, it’s hard to find, the memories, you’ve left behind. Remember, do you remember?)
When you go to the number of New Jersey high school softball games that most us in the media cover on a yearly basis, some of the results can be forgotten, over time, past looking back at a specific article.
But on May 19, 2015, I remember, well, going to a what appeared to be a routine game at Newark Academy of Livingston, as the Minutemen played host to Immaculate Heart Academy, on a warm, sunny afternoon.
On paper, it didn’t look like much of a game. IHA was on its way to an eventual state championship, just a few weeks later, while Newark Academy was young and gaining varsity experience.
The late Anthony LaRezza, in this 2014 photo with the state’s all-time winningest pitcher, Stef Thomas (center) and assistant coach Diana Fasano, following another IHA victory. Perhaps the softball field at IHA will one day be named in LaRezza’s memory.
I remember going to this game, because I wanted to see the two head coaches compete. Sergio Rodriguez would always convince you his Newark Academy team can play with any squad in the state while Anthony LaRezza would downplay his team’s chances. I remember spending a few innings on the Newark Academy side, and a few by the IHA dugout, and trying to keep a straight face was next to impossible.
(The laughter and the tears. The shadows of misty yesteryears. The good times and the bad you’ve seen, And all the others in between, Remember, do you remember, The times of your life?)
Rodriguez and LaRezza were as close as brothers. And in the early stages of this game, as Newark Academy stayed within a run through four innings, Serg was doing his usual magic act, pushing every button, while LaRezza was having a meltdown, basically saying his team stunk and they were destined to lose this game.
Well, IHA would go on to win, 10-0, breaking the game open in the late innings. And afterward, there was Serg and Anthony, making fun of each other, and saying they’d catch up at the Franklin Steakhouse, in Nutley, sooner, than later.
Fast forward to today, and a heartbroken Rodriguez could barely talk, when discussing his best pal, who died a day earlier, at the age of 50.
“He impacted so many lives,” said Rodriguez of LaRezza. “I mean, I can’t believe he’s gone. And, yes, I hurt, but I really feel for those kids who never had the chance to play for him, and for the current team, that was looking forward to a chance at repeating a state championship with him leading the way.
(Reach back for the joy and the sorrow, Put them away in your mind. The mem’ries are time that you borrow, To spend when you get to tomorrow)
“But you know what? It’s about those players who did play for him, that won’t be able to invite him to their wedding, or to meet the children of the kids who played for him one day. That’s all a part of what Anthony meant to so many. And those kids will be cheated, by not having him in their lives.”
Rodriguez and LaRezza’s friendship went back a quarter century.
“We met 25 years ago, at a softball game,” said Serg. “Anthony was coaching Project Pride, and one of the players on the team was my then-girlfriend. We started talking at a game and really never stopped. He was eight years older than me, but we hit it off right away.
(Here comes the setting sun. The seasons are passing one by one. So gather moments while you may
Collect the dreams you dream today, Remember, will you remember, The times of your life?)
“Anthony was a great baseball player as a kid at Bloomfield Tech. We later played in a pretty good fast-pitch softball league and Anthony was one of the best players I ever saw. I always said he was the only white guy on a team with Dominicans and natives of Puerto Rico. I remember once Anthony hit a homer at during a game, and it was a shot. He could really play.”
Rodriguez played his high school ball at Newark East Side High. Later, he began coaching the Pride, with LaRezza, from 1996-2006, before taking on a new summer team. The two had talked about reuniting and coaching together again in the summer.
Both Rodriguez and LaRezza are dads. Serg’s eldest daughter is already in college, playing softball at Rowan University, while he has two younger sons, in elementary school. Anthony had a young daughter, whom he adored.
Serg admits he’s pretty numb.
“People tell me that the pain will subside,” he said. “But I don’t see how. Everything I do, especially coaching, will remind me of Anthony. I can’t imagine going to a (summer) tournament, and not seeing him there. Thirty five years from now, if I’m lucky to be around that long, I’ll be thinking of him.
“He’s my best friend.”
(Gather moments while you may, Collect the dreams you dream today, Remember, will you remember
The times of your life?)