By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
One of the hallmarks of the Absegami High baseball program is consistency. There’s only been a handful of coaches in the history of the program, most notably Brian Wastell, who coached for a long time before handing the reins off to former Mainland standout pitcher and Absegami assistant Mike DeCicco three years ago.
DeCicco coached the Braves to a couple of state playoff berths before stepping down following the 2021 season to pursue a career in the baseball private sector, and the Braves are replacing him with one of the Cape-Atlantic League’s most recognizable assistant coaches — Junior Mejia of Atlantic City. DeCicco was 19-19 in three seasons at Absegami, including a big first-round playoff win over Mainland two years ago.
Mejia, a 37-year-old elementary school teacher in Atlantic City, made a name for himself as a star player in the CAL for the Vikings and went on to lead Tampa University to an NCAA Division II national championship in 2007. He was born in the Dominican Republic, moved to the United States as a 10-year-old and after college spent many years as one of the top players in the Atlantic County Baseball League. This summer he help launch the Galloway Mustangs program in the inaugural season of the South Jersey South Shore Baseball League, a league designed to attract players ages 16 to 25.
“I felt like going in that I had a good shot at getting the job. You never know what to expect because there were other candidates who were prepared, just like I was, for the job. I wouldn’t say I was shocked, but I was surprised, you could say. This will be the first time (as a head coach) for me. Part of why I decided to go for this job is because I am walking into a pretty good situation there at Absegami. Absegami has a pretty good draw in that community, we just have to continue to do our best to keep players going to Absegami High School. That’s my goal going in there, keeping the players we need to be able to keep and keep things going in the right direction,” Mejia said. “I haven’t really thought about the challenges, I’m really just soaking in this opportunity. If there is a challenge out there it has to be the changes in the school system with choice schools and everything else that is going on. That’s going to be the biggest challenge, keeping these kids at Absegami. And I’m going to do my best by surrounding myself with a nice coaching staff, people who know the game and who can coach the game the right way, and also teach these kids how to be respectable young men on and off the baseball field.”
Mejia said he believes he is ready to lead the Absegami program because of the vast experience he gained working with Atlantic City coach Brent Bean, who has been able to consistently put together competitive teams despite a lack of feeder programs in the city.
“I learned a lot from coach Bean. I have to give coach Bean and the coaching staff in Atlantic City a lot of credit. Atlantic City has a limited number of baseball players to draw from and that’s always been a challenge, but coach Bean does a great job in keeping that program together and keeping kids interested in playing baseball,” Mejia said. “For a lot of those kids, high school baseball is their first shot at really playing baseball, so coach Bean deserves a lot of credit for keeping that program together and doing the job he does. Atlantic City competes. They may not win a whole lot of games, but Atlantic City competes.”
Mejia said his first order of business will be making attempts to turn Absegami’s field into more of a ballpark rather than just a campus baseball field. He eyes a new press box as well as other improvements on and around the field.
“I have some plans and I’ll set up a meeting with (Athletic Director Steve) Fortis in the near future to talk about the things I’d like to put in place,” he said. “One of them is possibly putting in a press box and really making the field attractive to the players. I want that place to be a place where players can take pride in playing there. I know Absegami has a rich history when it comes to baseball and we want to continue that.”
Mejia has always had a passion for baseball and was known during his playing days as a guy who played hard every day, and played smart. He said he hopes that style will become infectious among his players in the brown and gold.
“My coaching style will be similar to how I played the game. I joke around with friends that I need to stop playing the game because my mind is telling me one thing but my body is telling me a completely different thing. I play hard — I only know one speed when playing this game; I go hard when I play the game, even at my age now. When I’m out there I leave it all on the field. My brain thinks I’m still in high school but my body is at a different stage, but that’s my style. I want to teach players how to play the game the right way, and play hard. That’s the way I’m going to teach the game, just the way I played it,” Mejia said. “I want to leave my mark and show that I can also coach the game. It’s not just being able to play the game, but coach the game at a high level. And if everything falls into place the way I think it will, I think we’ll be very successful. My goal is to go in there and make Absegami baseball one of the top programs in South Jersey, if not the state.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: email@example.com; on Twitter @GDsullysays