Familiar names spark Northeast

Lucas Valentin has played many positions this year for Northeast. CONTRIBUTED

For Tom Juhas, it’s almost like deja vu.

Juhas, the baseball coach at Northeast High School, has a lineup full of young players. And while many of the guys have been on the varsity team for only a year or two, he’s been calling out some of their names for years.

The names are the same, and so is the type of player, but it’s still new players.

Lucas Valentin, a junior pitcher, catcher and third baseman, has been around the program for years because his brother, Elijah, starred for the Vikings before graduating in 2017.

Christian Castro, a freshman shortstop, was also around the team. His brother, Cris, also a 2017 grad, hit leadoff for the Vikings for four seasons.

And sophomore Anthony Aron, a pitcher, is the brother of Tyler, who was the team’s ace a season ago.

The way they look at it, the Northeast baseball program isn’t a team. It’s a family.

And together, they’re growing something special.

“I would go to a lot of the games and watch,” said Castro, who is hitting .302 with 15 runs scored on the season. “I learned a lot from my brother, I try to do what he did. He was a very good teacher. But I’m learning so much from the coaches here.

“Everyone here is learning together. We’re not a great team, but we’re working to become better. I wanted to come here and make the team, but I ended up starting. It’s making me want to work harder to play better.”

Together, they are building a winner.

Northeast is exceptionally young. There are only five seniors on the roster. There are a bunch of juniors, sophomores and even freshmen who are optimistic about the future.

They’re also optimistic about the present.

Northeast is 6-6 in Public League play with one game to go in the regular season against Mariana Bracetti.

The Vikings also played a challenging nonleague schedule, and while they didn’t pick up any victories, they did get valuable experience playing against teams like Father Judge, Central and Roman Catholic.

The losses showed the Vikings how far they’ve come, but also showed them how far they still have to go.

“I was around watching Northeast when my brother was here,” Aron said. “They went to the championship. I knew I wanted to play here. Everyone was watching and playing hard.

“I think we can get there. We have a lot of young players, but we’re doing good this year. We have a chance to be real good.”

The potential is there, but the key to this year is watching the younger players get seasoning.

The Public League is wide open this year, although teams like Frankford, Olney and Central seem to be the most serious contenders.

Still, the Vikings will be invited to the party, and while they have a rough road to get to the championship, they’re ready to make their pitch.

“I like big games because it means pitching against the best,” said Aron, who is the team’s No. 2 pitcher behind John Wing. “We had some big games this year, and we’re learning. Our coaches help us a lot in those big games because they tell us what to expect. And we have good leaders on the the team, too, so they help us.

“I learned a lot from my brother. Everyone here helps each other. When we help someone else get better, that makes the team get better.”

That makes Juhas happy.

He knows winning in the Public League isn’t easy, and while he’d love to hang a banner, he’s just happy to see his players perform better every time they take the field.

“It’s fun to have these guys because I saw their brothers do it and now they’re doing it,” Juhas said. “Their brothers are all good, too, and played on good teams. These guys saw competitive games with good teams on both sides, and it’s made them better players.”

Juhas is also happy these players will be around for a few years.

All return next year, and with a lot of sophomores contributing, the future is bright.

“I just want to get better every year,” said Castro, who sees himself as a natural shortstop but is willing to play anywhere. “I would love to win a championship here. That’s definitely the goal. I would love to win it with these guys. These guys are helping me get better.

“Our brothers played together, and now we’re playing together. We would come and watch our brothers and now they come to watch us. They help us get better. And we help each other. We’re going to be good next year and after that, too.”