The New Jersey high school softball season began last Friday, with practice. Scrimmages are scheduled to begin soon, with the regular season just a few weeks away, commencing April 1.
I’ve been stopping by a few schools to say hello to the coaches and players this week, and with the warm weather, everyone is excited about the start of the season. But, in Northern New Jersey, especially, the undercurrent is hard to avoid, as coaches and players still try to grasp that Anthony LaRezza won’t be coaching Immaculate Heart Academy this season.
It was just a little over a month ago, Feb. 4, 2016, that Anthony left us. And while time is supposed to heal certain wounds, watching softball games was always a trip with Anthony’s commentary, whether it was at an IHA game, as he coached third base, and throwing the occasional scorecard in mock disgust, or any other game that he was attending, as a spectator. Because, when he wasn’t coaching, LaRezza was usually watching a game, somewhere.
The wheels were always turning with him.
I remember a game in 2012, when Livingston was playing at Mount St. Dominic, in a regular season contest. The umpire made a questionable call at first base, on a play where a Livingston base runner was called safe, but was probably out. MSDA assistant coach Rob Stern shouted to the umpire, ‘come on, you’re better than that.’
And Anthony, sitting in the stands with that mischievous smile, turned to me and said (of the umpire) ‘no he’s not’, meaning that particular umpire had probably made a call, or two, like that before. It was typical LaRezza, who never took himself too seriously.
There was a game in 2013, again between Livingston and MSDA, this time for the Essex County title, at Ivy Hill Park. The first inning was a little crazy, and Livingston coach Jason Daily must have come out of the dugout to question a few umpiring calls, something Daily usually didn’t do.
LaRezza, standing by the fence on the first base side of the worst sight line ball park in the county, said, “if that’s me, I’m already thrown out of this game. I don’t know how Jason isn’t flipping out, already.”
But, back to reality. Scrimmages start on March 11, and regular season games are just three weeks after that. Life does go on. IHA should have a good team again. They have a tremendous young coach in Diana Fasano, who knows the team well, having been LaRezza’s assistant for a number of years. She’s the right choice for a difficult job, and the team will rally around her, as she will rally around them.
It’ll be fun going to IHA home games, starting with its annual tournament in early April. But standing behind the fence at home plate, will evoke a thousand memories of Anthony. We all know he’s there, rooting on his favorite team. And that sense of humor will carry on in the hearts of his friends.
So, I figured before I’d go see Nutley’s first scrimmage (which was usually against IHA, but not this year), on March 11, I’ll stop by Glendale, in Bloomfield, to say hello, then go to Anthony’s favorite lunch spot, Rutt’s Hut, to have a few rippers, in his honor. Then, later in the day, watch some softball on what should be a pretty nice day, weather-wise, especially for early March.
And, the games will begin, and I can hear Anthony asking what horse name I’ll give to a new stud player.
Probably not, because there was just one Secretariat (from Livingston) but I always told Anthony that in 2015, a ‘Southpaw’ Secretariat was on his pitching staff.
How about American Pharoah?
Could be, perhaps for a player from a private school in Essex County.
And then we’d kid about his Memorial Day rant, at the 2010 IHA Tournament, or how a certain player on his 2015 squad was named after a great U.S. president.
And somehow, everything will be okay.
And, in a way, it is, because Anthony would insist on it.
Life goes on.