Though its season is on hold, Saipan Little League Baseball is undoubtedly a highly anticipated competition here annually, as it features up-and-coming players and provide the CNMI a glimpse of the future of the sport on island.
The Braves are one of the teams that regularly compete in the SLLB, fielding squads in the Minor, Major, Junior, Senior, and Big League (when the event was still in the program) divisions.
“The Braves have been a member of the Saipan Little League almost since the inception of youth baseball in the CNMI. A lots of our kids have gone through the program,” Braves manager George N. Camacho said.
“More importantly, these former Braves Little League players have progressed and have become contributing members of the community,” added Camacho, who was asked to select the Top 10 Braves players that stood out in the program. “Obviously, there are far more than 10 and too many to mention all names.”
In no particular order, Camacho selected siblings Ned and Bruce Norita, Josh Jones, Justin Alexander, and J.J. Lifoifoi, and recalled their outstanding performances while proudly donning the Braves’ uniform.
Ned joined the Little League program when he was 9 years old and immediately made an impact in the competition, as he won the batting title in his rookie season.
“He was also an all-star in every year that he played in the league. Ned made it to the Big League World Series in Florida,” said Camacho.
Ned, a police officer with the Department of Public Safety, now has switched to softball, but still has that powerful swing, which he also uses to tame the greens and fairways of the various golf courses on Saipan.
Ned came into the Little League because of his older brother, Bruce.
“Smashing homeruns in the old San Vicente field before his younger brother Ned joined the Braves, Bruce has been an all-star multiple times. He’s not only dangerous at the plate, but also an excellent defensive player,” Camacho said.
The older Norita is also now into softball and although Camacho still admires how Bruce kept his deadly swing, the Braves manager is prouder of how the player always displays sportsmanship and has become a role model in the community, especially among the youth.
The Norita siblings powered the Braves in the Little League competition in the 1990s, while about a decade later, a new star up north shone in Jones.
“Josh’s baseball career was recognized throughout the Pacific region. He’s an amazing south paw pitcher. His command on the ball is like no other. He may not be the hardest thrower, but his off-speed pitches were wicked. Josh could take down a team almost by himself,” Camacho said.
Rival Guam felt what’s it like to be up against Jones during the gold medal match in the 2011 Pacific Games in New Caledonia.
With the CNMI behind, 0-2, Jones came to pitch for the Commonwealth in the third inning and anchored the squad’s come-from-behind win, 8-4. He gave up no earned run and allowed only three hits to hand the Commonwealth’s its only gold medal in the quadrennial event. The Braves pride recorded 42 strikeouts in the competition.
Jones returned to play for the CNMI in the Pacific Games after moving up to the collegiate ranks where he got an athletics scholarship with Colby Community College. He led Colby to a championship in 2013 before suiting up for the University of West Alabama in the NCAA.
“Josh was highly recruited to play on Guam, but opted to seek bigger things. Josh played baseball in college on a full-time scholarship. Josh’s college career stats speak for themselves. Currently, Josh continues to play softball where his hard hitting is on full display,” Camacho said.
Another Braves player who earned a chance to play collegiate baseball was Alexander.
“I have not seen a harder throwing pitcher as Justin during my time in Little League. Justin was not only amazing on the mound, but he can also play other positions. Justin was an all-star during his Little League career,” Camacho said.
Alexander went on to play for Tennessee Tech and also played college football (quarterback).
“He’s a true all-around athlete, with a deadly drive when he plays golf,” Camacho said.
Lifoifoi was another prized find for the Braves.
A lefty, Camacho said Lifoifoi is a shutout pitcher.
“If he isn’t catching flies from center field, he is throwing heat on the mound. J.J. pitches hard, but also can mix it up with changes,” said Camacho.
Lifoifoi made it to the CNMI All-Star teams several times and has now taken his acts to the Saipan Major League. He is also a firefighter.
Meanwhile, Saipan Tribune will publish the names and accomplishments of the five other Braves players that Camacho selected in the Wednesday edition of the paper.