Public League baseball vet leads Northeast

Step­ping right in: After coach­ing base­ball at Ger­man­town for the last eight sea­sons, Joe Fite was look­ing for an­oth­er op­por­tun­ity when the school closed. He got one from North­east, where Fite will take over for long­time head coach Sam Feld­man. ED MOR­RONE / TIMES PHOTO

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.” ••

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