It would be hard to imagine a player more prepared for college than Caldwell High’s Nick Bergamotto, a longtime Diamond Jack out of Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Bergamotto is fresh off a terrific senior season at Caldwell and a summer spent with Legends Baseball of the ABCCL, a summer league that keeps current collegiate ball players fresh and provides an eye-opening experience for incoming college freshmen.
“Naturally, it’s tougher competition than I’m used to,” said Bergamotto, whose team reached the playoff quarterfinals in the 16-team league before being eliminated from the postseason. “It’s a faster, stronger game. I played at a high level with the Diamond Jacks, but this summer definitely helped me get a feel for the college game and the importance of the weight room.”
The ABCCL is a wood bat league and Legends Baseball (12-10-2) is coached by Tony Santomauro, whose sons were stars at West Essex High School in North Caldwell.
“We were very competitive,” said Bergamotto. “Most of the pitchers I faced are older, 21, 22, all with good mid-80s stuff, good off-speed stuff.”
Bergamotto was a late commit – Feb. 23 – to Siena, despite an outstanding junior season at Caldwell and 2021 summer with the Diamond Jacks Super 17 team.
“Siena told me I could play in the ABCCL or ACBL,” said Bergamotto, a slick middle infielder with a penchant for barreling up desirable pitches.
He led Caldwell in almost every conceivable offensive category this spring, guiding the Chiefs to the NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 2 championship.
The 5-8, 180 Bergamotto batted .453 with 43 hits, 17 of which were for extra bases, 37 RBI, 33 runs-scored and concluded his three-year career with an astounding 104 hits. Remember, Bergamotto lost his sophomore season to the pandemic.
For his remarkable season, Bergamotto was named to NJ.com’s First Team All-Group 2.
“We went as Nick went,” says Caldwell’s second-year coach Ryan Smith, “and he had a phenomenal season. I see nothing but success for him at Siena.”
Caldwell’s 24-8 season included huge wins over Greater Newark Tournament champion Seton Hall Prep, Group 4 champion Howell and Group 1 runner-up New Providence, just to name a few in a 24-8 campaign that will be long remembered at the Essex County school.
“A lot of our success is thanks to Nick’s leadership,” says Smith. “He’s the hardest working kid in the room and that permeated throughout the team. You see it in how he handles batting practice, infield practice and how he gets the rest of the guys going.
“On top of that, he has a very high baseball IQ. A lot of guys raised their games because of Nick. He was the sparkplug for us. He never gets down on himself.”
COVID’s recruiting war
But all the superlatives about Bergamotto didn’t quite make him a household name among college recruiters, at least early on.
The COVID pandemic created quite a recruiting headache for both high school players and college coaches. Players need to be seen and coaches need to see, first hand, the available talent at their disposal. But the NCAA was putting up a stiff arm.
As a result, it seemed, some very good ball players were falling through the cracks created by the pandemic and the NCAA’s burdensome restrictions on its coaches’ recruiting practices.
A lost high school season in 2020 and the subsequent unnecessarily endless restrictions on college recruiters through much of 2021 left some very good players waiting impatiently for an opportunity to showcase their abilities.
“There were an abundance of players floating around that (2020) summer heading into our junior year,” said Bergamotto. “We were all waiting for an opportunity to be seen.”
Bergamotto wouldn’t commit to Siena until a little more than a month before he would embark on a spectacular senior season at Caldwell High that would lead to that sectional championship and, later, his selection to All-Group 2.
Typical of Bergamotto, the COVID imposed recruiting challenges he experienced did not leave him pouting, whining or giving up on his dream of a Division 1 scholarship. He, instead, controlled what he could control, his performance on the field and his work off the field.
“When your best player is the hardest worker on the team, it makes coaching easy,” said Smith.
Smith saw that out of Bergamotto in the spring of 2021, when the then junior was the most productive batter in the Chiefs lineup, rapping out 35 hits, scoring 31 times and driving home 24. But it would be another summer and fall before the 5-8, 180-pounder would generate enough of a following to be optimistic about his chances of landing a school of his choice.
“I kept getting one foot in the door but couldn’t get all the way through it,” said Bergamotto. “I was lucky to have a lot of people help, from Diamond Nation, to Derrick Kraemer from the Crossbridge Raiders and Dave Pepe.” Pepe is a Caldwell grad and the Northeast scout for the Seattle Mariners.
Bergamotto, an excellent student, had at least some interest through the process from Seton Hall University, Columbia, Harvard, Iona and, of course, Siena. “I talked to a bunch of players,” said Bergamotto, who were in the same recruiting boat.
“Dave offered to help,” said Bergamotto. “He called Siena and set me up with (head) coach (Tony) Rossi. That’s how it all started with them.” Bergamotto plans to study finance at the Loudonville, N.Y. school.
Diamond Jack years
Bergamotto came to Diamond Nation as a 14 year-old and quickly ran into one of the organization’s most demanding coaches in Travis Anderson, the former Somerset Patriots catcher.
“Coach Travis had the biggest impact. He’s like a scary guy when you first meet him,” said Bergamotto. “But he brought out the best in us.”
Anderson remembers well those earliest experiences with Bergamotto.
“I knew I was hard on Nick,” said Anderson. “But I felt he was the type of player who responds to that. As a coach, you have to learn personalities real fast. And sometimes we only spend six months with each kid. I had a good relationship with Nick.
“He was a utility guy with us when he was 15, but, at the same time he always barreled the ball. I told him I don’t know where you are going to play, buddy, but you are always going to hit. I think I was the first guy to put him in the outfield. I know he didn’t want to be out there but he never acted like that. He really didn’t care where he fit in the lineup. I always respected how hard he worked. He put his head down and worked. He was always totally coachable and never complained.”
Bergamotto said, “All of my coaches there were great in their own right; coach Walt (Cleary), Ditro (Steve DiTrolio), Kevin Cust.”
Closing out high school with a sectional title
Bergamotto said there was a winning vibe going around Caldwell High heading into baseball season. The football and basketball teams had outstanding seasons, so there was hope that momentum would carry over to the spring season.
“We had a lot of multi-sport guys,” said Bergamotto. “The school had a really great sports year and we put it all together, too, with a good combination of upper and underclassmen.”
Smith, in just his second year at the helm, but eighth overall in the program, steered the ship.
“We loved him,” said Bergamotto of Smith. “He’s very open. He’s still young and implementing things but gives great advice. He puts a lot of time and effort in practice, which we are grateful for. I was the only kid with two full years of varsity experience. I had played in two Greater Newark Tournaments and two state tournaments, so felt I had to step up and pass that experience along to the younger guys.”
Bergamotto always carried himself like a leader.
“Nick is like a coach on the field,” says Smith. “I’d have conversations with the guys and it was like he knew what was coming. He loves to compete, loves to win and always makes his teammates better.”
All to Siena’s benefit now.