To tell the “Jeff Mejia Story” at Northern Essex Community College I bring you to the Haverhill campus on a chilly, Saturday morning in mid-February.
The NECC Sports & Fitness Center building that houses the gymnasium was open to the public accepting donations – clothing, winter coats, bedding, sleeping bags, etc. – for the victims of earthquake in Turkey.
Three players on the men’s basketball team that hailed from Turkey oversaw the impressive display of compassion from locals.
Equally impressive, though, was the action down the hallway, with loud pings ringing in the air.
Upon further review there the gymnasium looked like a factory and its workers in action. About 30 baseball players, all in practice uniforms, were either sharing time between two hitting cages set up with machines and pitchers throwing off the makeshift mounds.
Even more impressive was the fact that Coach Mejia wasn’t even there. He was in Florida with his wife, watching his son, Jeffrey playing for UMaine in Sarasota, Fla.
It was his son’s last Florida trip. He wasn’t going to miss it.
“Family is always Number One,” said Mejia. “That’s not even a question.”
The fact that Mejia’s junior college team was all-in on its commitment, at a 7:30 a.m. Saturday practice, speaks volumes of the family and really the culture he has established.
“That’s why we are going to the World Series,” said Wilmington’s Tristan Ciampa. “Because we are all committed to this. Everyone. We are like a family.”
How Mejia, now in his 10th season at NECC, ended up here was planned, but it seems like it was meant to be.
“I was an assistant at Suffolk [University] and loved it. We played Northern Essex in the fall,” said Mejia, a native of Everett, who served in Desert Storm. “I had always been drawn to junior college ball. When I got out of the Army I was in San Jose (Ca.) City College. I had said if the position became available [at NECC], that would interest me, helping a lot of junior college kids.”
While he took over a program that had gone to the Div. 3 World Series the year before, most of the core group graduated and moved on.
“The part I’ve always loved was the recruiting,” said Mejia. “It’s not easy, but I love watching guys play and predicting their growth. We’ve had a lot of kids from area go far away to play junior college ball. I always ‘Why?’ They shouldn’t have to.”
Winning, Mejia learned quickly, breeds success. and his teams have won, including eight Region 21 championships and now seven trips to the Div. 3 World Series, including one runnerup finish in 2016.
But ultimately he has been a bigger winner in getting players to four-year colleges.
In fact, this year, with Tristan Ciampa’s recent commitment to St. Bonaventure, marks the sixth year in a row he has sent at least one player to a Div. 1 school.
“Every year is a different group and he has a different approach for that particular year,” said NECC Director of Athletics, Dan Blair. “It’s amazing. He finds kids every year. I remember this past year, in December, he was losing sleep over not having a good enough pitching staff.
“He went out and got Jairo [Vazquez] and Ross [Dyer], who had been at Bryant University,” said Blair. “He goes out on a semester break and finds missing pieces to this year’s squad together.”
Ciampa gets emotional talking about his growth, and finding his way at NECC under Mejia’s guidance.
“He changed my life,” said Ciampa. “He saw something in me that I didn’t even see in myself. I’ll never have another coach like him. I’d recommend anybody to play for him.”
I think you just did.
You can email Bill Burt at email@example.com.
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