By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Grand Street Campus is known for perennially being one of the biggest baseball programs in New York City and Wolves starter Alexander Quas says the reason for that is the incredible coaching staff. However, for the first time in 19 years there is a new head coach at the Bushwick school.
That doesn’t mean that expectations have changed, however. The person taking over for Melvin Martinez is his brother Steve, who has served as the assistant coach for the last 14 years.
"It's really been the entire staff, not just Melvin," Quas said. "This team is like a family. That's how Melvin and Steve have run things, that's what has made this program such a big success and having Steve take over for Melvin hasn't changed much. Steve is just a little more strict.”
Melvin, who is in his early 40’s, was forced to step away from the Wolves after he suffered a stroke this past November. Fortunately, he is recovering well and going through physical therapy right now. He hasn’t been around the team much, but Steve said that they expect him to be around more once the playoffs start.
“Melvin is a great spirit, he's always happy,” starting pitcher Emanuel Castellano said. “It's different without him, but not that much. He always kept everybody up, always joking a lot, laughing. We miss him a lot, but he's out and we have to keep on going.
“We've been with Steve since my freshman year so it's nothing new. Now he's just running the show.”
The biggest change, like Cuas said, has been that Steve is a lot more strict on the kids and, considering that there are only 11 seniors on a team of 29, that has been a good thing. He’s forced the kids to work harder on the field and been focused on how they behave off the field as well.
“I feel like it's great for the younger kids,” Cuas said. “There are kids that had previous problems, like school, where he forces us to take our school work seriously, he forces us to be gentlemen on and off the field. He's stricter, but I think sometimes we needed that.”
Things seem to be running essentially the same at Grand Street or at least as much as they can be without their longtime coach around. The expectations are still the same — the Wolves want a championship and the coaching staff is trying to help everyone move on to the next level, a spot on a Division I college team and, with luck and hard work, to the major league draft.
"The reason why I'm so strict with these kids is because I want to see them succeed, to get scholarships and to move on," Martinez said. "Dellin Betances is now in the majors and Alex's brother Jose Cuas is doing great at the University of Maryland. They're a great example because they came from Grand Street too and the kids know that they can achieve the same things if they want it and work hard enough.”
Betances and Jose Cuas aren’t just role models because of the success they’ve achieved. They both have come back since graduating to help out in occasional practices. Alexander explained that their example is what makes him want to help out the younger kids on the team.
"When I was just starting out I was one of just two freshman on the team," Cuas recalled. "That's not easy, but my brother and some of the other upperclassmen went out of their way to make it easier on me. You see that and you see a guy that has reached the majors like Dellin has and it instills a great responsibility within you to help out the kids that are coming up behind me."
Quas and Castellano lead a pitching-rich team that has jumped out to a 13-3-1 record and is expected to go deep into the Public School Athletic League playoffs. The Wolves have a big challenge coming up when they take on Telecommunication Arts and Technology, the defending champions, in Bushwick on Tuesday.