If the Public League had a mayor, Joe Fite might be able to run unopposed.
In addition to teaching at Frankford High School, Fite had been the baseball coach at Germantown before the school closed last year. Then, by a stroke of good luck, the Northeast head coach position opened up, and Fite threw his hat into the ring.
He got the job, replacing longtime soccer and baseball coach Sam Feldman, who retired at the end of the last school year.
“I’m just really happy I didn’t lose a year,” Fite said a few hours before Northeast opened its 2014 season at Masterman with a 6-5, 10-inning loss. “I was afraid it would take me a year or two to find another position, and Northeast kind of fell into my lap. I’ve known Sam for years. We worked a summer camp together for several years. It’s just unbelievable I could be coaching a team at a school with so much tradition and history. It’s been a revelation so far, as I’m not used to the talent level of the players I’m coaching now.”
Fite had been a teacher at Germantown for 14 years, including the final eight as head baseball coach. Additionally, he was an assistant football coach, and held stints as the school’s girls varsity basketball, boys JV basketball and badminton coach. He’s been teaching at Frankford the last three, and given the fact that Juan Namnun’s Pioneers baseball program has won the last two league titles — paired with the fact that Northeast has been moved up to the A Division — Fite can’t wait to see where the Vikings stack up against the Public League’s elite programs.
“We were in the B Division the last few years, but now we’re back in A where I feel we belong,” Fite said of the Vikings’ ascension to Division A, which now boasts 13 teams to last year’s eight. “I think the talent level is pretty similar across the board. I teach at Frankford and have some of the baseball players in my classes, so we’ve already circled April 11 on the calendar when we play them at Northeast. Then you’ve got teams like Masterman, Washington, Central … it should be interesting. It’s all about putting your players in the right position to win. Let’s see who makes the least mistakes and gets an early jump on the league.”
On Monday, it was Masterman, Lincoln, Franklin Towne and Central that got an early jump, winning their league openers. Northeast, which went 9-2 in Division B in 2013, is young but talented, according to Fite.
Players he highlighted were senior pitcher/outfielder Robert Perez and senior catcher and co-captain Omar Guzman; junior Ryan Roffman is the other captain and will be Fite’s number one pitcher in addition to playing first base; two sophomores, Eli Mejia and Starlin Gomez, are future building blocks in the infield. Fite said Mejia has potential to be a first-team All-Public selection, maybe even as early as this season.
The Vikings have five seniors in total, three juniors, seven sophomores and two freshmen on the roster, and Fite acknowledged there could be some early growing pains as his relatively inexperienced roster irons out the kinks. However, he also said that the type of baseball player the school tends to attract is usually one who is more advanced and developed fundamentally, meaning that Fite didn’t have to waste much early practice time going over the basics. That’s a good thing, since traditional practice time has been somewhat limited due to the drastically cold winter temperatures.
So essentially, Fite said, Northeast is taking a wait-and-see approach to this season, but he hopes he doesn’t have to wait too long to start seeing some positive results.
“These kids, they already know the fundamentals of the game, so it’s a nice situation to be in,” Fite said. “The talent level we have is higher than I’m used to, but how does it compare to Frankford, Central, Franklin Towne Charter? We need to find that out. We can grow with these kids the next few years, and I expect us to contend this year and every year we’re playing. That’s the level Northeast has historically been at, and there’s nothing different about that now.”
For as much athletic tradition and glory Northeast has built up through the years, the Vikings haven’t won a Public League baseball title since 1999. Fite hopes to change that, and soon.
“We have banners up in the gym, and the last baseball championship was 1999,” he said. “I keep telling the guys to look at that, and let’s put another number up there real soon. Honestly, it’s just about having them do the right things at the right times, and they know a lot of that already. We’re just reinforcing that. With the weather the way it’s been, all the teams are pretty much in the same boat, except Frankford, which just got back from a Florida trip. I think the talent level is similar, so it should be real interesting.” ••