Story by: Alan Skontra
Spread photo by: Robert Wagner
Other photos courtesy of ZOG, ABL, AND NBA photos/Brooklyn Nets
Many people – even far away from Hoboken – know about the city’s role as a founding birthplace of baseball. However, sports in Hoboken didn’t stop with the paving of the Elysian Fields in the late 19th century. Today’s Hobokenites are playing in professional leagues, taking the competition to other cities, and making the Mile Square a hub of athletic activity.
In the National Basketball ‘Association,’ there are 30 teams with 15 players per team, meaning there are only 450 jobs available in the world’s most competitive basketball league. Given that these days some 20% of the league is foreign born, it’s all the more a wonder that a kid from Hoboken – point guard Tyshawn Taylor – earned his way into the prestigious NBA.
Taylor, who stands 6’3, has a high-rising story. He spent much of his childhood living in Hoboken’s public housing projects. Though money was tight, so was his community. “Growing up there, it was a small place, but it was family and community oriented,” he said. “That’s really what I remember most.” He learned the game on the city’s courts, and later he played high school ball at St. Anthony in Jersey City under national Hall of Fame coach Bob Hurley.
During Taylor’s senior year in 2008, the team went 32-0 and won the USA Today’s ranking as the top team in the nation. Taylor then played at the University of Kansas, which almost won the 2012 national championship game. He also traveled to New Zealand and helped Team USA win the 2009 FIBA World Championship for players under 19.
In 2012, he was one of 60 players drafted into the NBA. The Portland Trailblazers selected him with the 41st pick as part of a deal that sent Taylor to the Brooklyn Nets, with whom Taylor played during the2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. Taylor said he had to learn a lot more about playing in the NBA than just passing and shooting. “Everybody knows how good the players are, but there’s also the business aspect,” he said. “The season is from October to June, and you’re on the road the whole time. You miss holidays. It’s hard on your body and your personal life.”
Taylor is trying to stick in the NBA. In January of 2014, the Nets traded him and cash to the New Orleans Pelicans, who immediately released Taylor to reopen a roster spot. Taylor finished the season playing with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA’s developmental league, and he will look to join an NBA team before the 2014-15 season. Regardless of his future, Taylor made it into the NBA, the very top of his profession. “You have to work hard, whatever your craft is,” he said. “You have to be willing to sacrifice, to give up a lot to get where you want to be. Confidence goes way beyond, too.”
Baseball is big on counting stats, so maybe that’s why longtime Hoboken High baseball coach Charles “Buddy” Matthews can still remember box scores from decades ago. For example, Matthews remembers beating Hudson County powerhouse Memorial High of West New York for the first time in decades during the 1989 season. The previous year, Memorial had shelled Hoboken 18-6, and at the end of the game the Memorial fans mocked Hoboken’s red-haired pitcher by singing the Howdy Doody theme song.
Hoboken had a team full of freshmen and sophomores during that season, and the following year Matthews reminded his older and improving players of that humiliation before the rematch with Memorial. “We were coming along, having a good year, and we just knew we were good,” he said. “We went up there, and I told the kids, when we beat them, we’re going sing that song. We beat them 10-2.”
Matthews coached Hoboken High’s baseball team from 1986 to 2011, during which he led the team to eight county championships, five state sectional championships, and four appearances in the overall state title game. Matthews started coaching as a child at the Hoboken YMCA, thanks to his mentor, Mike Granelli. “He had me begin coaching when I turned 12, coaching younger kids seven or eight years old,” Matthews said. “Basically I’ve been coaching ever since. Even when I was out playing with my friends, I was the one setting everything up.”
Matthews played baseball for Hoboken High until he graduated in 1972. He then played for St. Peter’s College in Jersey City, and after earning his degree, he became a teacher. He had been looking to coach, and when the job for Hoboken High’s boys’ basketball team became open in 1986, Matthews applied. But he really wanted to coach baseball, too. “I said I’ll coach basketball if you let me coach baseball,” Matthews said.
Since he retired as a teacher in 2011, Matthews also had to stop coaching at the school. Looking back, he still remembers many of his best former players. There was Danny Ortiz, who helped Hoboken win two county championships by giving up only one hit in two title games. Ace pitcher Eduardo Gomez set the school strikeout record in 1994 by sitting down 141 batters. Matthews later groomed Kenny Roder, a 2012 graduate who struck out 172 batters that year and pitched a perfect game.
Like a big league team relying on its farm system, Matthews kept nurturing good baseball players. “I was always worried after good players graduated, but the talent kept arriving,” he said. Matthews said the relationships he had with his players were the most rewarding part of his coaching career.
“It’s not the pros, but it’s more enjoyable,” he said about coaching high school players. “You’re coaching and developing and molding young men. Sports kept a lot of our kids interested in school, it helped them graduate, and seeing them come back and be successful in their fields has been rewarding.”