WEST ORANGE – In the game of baseball, two of the biggest joys for Frank Genova were playing first base for Roselle Catholic and rooting for the Yankees during the Derek Jeter era.
But at the top of the list for Genova is serving as the head coach for the diamond squad at Golda Och Academy. During his tenure, the school hasn’t won any championships, but the team is always competitive.
“We have a losing record this spring,” said Genova, “but all the kids are giving their best effort. Heck, we have only 12 kids on the roster and that includes just one senior.”
Jeremy Berkowitz, the lone senior, has been a fine player at both first base and on the mound. According to Genova, Berkowitz gets “good location” on his pitches, and can get batters out with the fastball, curve and change-up.
Most seniors at Golda Och travel to Israel to do community service during their final semester in school. Berkowitz, a captain, opted to work as an intern for an architectural firm.
“Jeremy is a very smart kid,” stated Genova, who was a big fan of Yankee greats Bernie Williams and Paul O’Neill. “It’s truly been a pleasure to have him on our team.”
Along with Berkowitz, other key players for the West Orange school include Ari Esrig, Nadav Aronoff, Alex Moskowitz, Elijah Taitel and Matt Nadel. The coach points out that all the players on the roster have contributed.
Esrig, the other team captain, starts at the hot corner, but is also effective as a relief pitcher.
“Heck, Ari can throw the knuckleball,” said Genova, who works as an accountant when he’s not coaching baseball. “At the high school level, not too many guys can throw that pitch. And he’s the No. 4 hitter in our lineup.”
Aronoff does a good job of handling the chores at backstop. Genova likes the fact that the junior “is just a tough kid.”
Moskowitz, a sophomore righty, could be the key man on the hill next season. The youngster complements the fastball with a good curveball.
Teitel, a sophomore shortstop, impresses his coach because of his dedication to the game. He’s an important man in the lineup because he bats third in the order, just ahead of Esrig.
“Elijah is fundamentally sound,” said Genova, whose all-time favorite Yankee is the late, great Lou Gehrig. “He does the job, game after game, at shortstop.”
Interestingly, the best player that Genova coached at Golda Och was also a shortstop, Keith Brien. In his freshman campaign, Brien batted an astounding .694. He also was a pretty good pitcher.
“I think he slumped to the .400 mark in his next two seasons,” said Genova, who is in his early 30s. “Keith was a guy who always made great contact at the plate.”
Nadel, a junior, can help the team at second base and in the outfield. The youngster shows a lot of spunk on the diamond.
“Matt really loves the game,” remarked Genova, whose team competes in the Independence Division of the Super Essex Conference. “He’s already written a book on the sport. I think he’ll end up being a great sports journalist or broadcaster.”
As a manager, Genova always emphasizes the importance of good defense. His role model in that area is Bobby Cox, the former Atlanta Braves manager.
“You don’t want to beat yourself,” said Genova. “In high school, I wasn’t a great hitter, but I prided myself by being solid at first base.”
Genova says his big goal at Golda Och is to see the squad win a conference title.
“When that happens, maybe I would step down as the head coach,” said Genova. “But I would miss coaching all of these great kids.”
DIAMOND NOTE – Genova’s old school, Roselle Catholic, made it to the finals of the 1967 Greater Newark Tournament championship, only to bow to a great Morristown squad.