Kevin Gilbert Scholarship honorees Nick Czarnecki, Tommy Delany, Haydn Strycharz and Matt Miceli.
It’s been 10 years since the tragic death of former Diamond Jacks and Hunterdon Central player Kevin Gilbert but his legacy and memory live on in the form of assorted scholarships and fundraisers in his name.
Nick Czarnecki, Tommy Delany, Matt Miceli and Haydn Strycharz are the 2021 Kevin Gilbert Scholarship honorees, bringing the number of recipients to 43 and the total scholarship dollars awarded to $100,000.
“Just to be recognized as a similar person is awesome,” said Delany during a short ceremony at Diamond Nation last week. “I’m excited to be associated with Kevin Gilbert.”
Gilbert died in a car accident on the way to a pre-season practice on March 11, 2011. A senior at the Flemington, N.J. school, Gilbert had already committed to play college baseball at Temple University.
Scholarships in Kevin’s name have been formed by his family and friends, as well, and take the form of a 5K race and an annual whiffle ball game in which each participant makes a donation.
Two days before his death, Kevin wrote an essay on baseball for a class assignment and that essay has been widely read and quoted.
“Baseball is my life,” wrote Gilbert. “There is nothing more I enjoy than stepping out onto the field in between those chalky foul lines.” He continued, “When I think of my favorite athletes, I picture the baseball players who are covered in dirt and sand from sliding in the infield and into bases. I picture the men with grass stains all over themselves, like little kids, diving all over the outfield.”
Gilbert was Hunterdon Central’s center fielder and the kind of player other players follow without a second thought. He was their leader without a need to verbally demand that respect.
“Reading Kevin’s essay you get a feel for the kind of person he was and his work ethic,” says Delany, a Princeton High School senior committed to Penn.
When Diamond Nation formed the Kevin Gilbert scholarship, it did so with the prerequisite that the recipients must embody Kevin’s spirit for the game and his love for his teammates. The three main criteria listed were character, athletics and academics.
Each Gilbert scholarship recipient receives $2,500 to be used toward his college education. The quartet of recipients this year truly reflects the type of player and teammate Kevin Gilbert was.
Nick Czarnecki, Hunterdon Central/Monmouth University
Czarnecki has played seven years for the Diamond Jacks and started at first base as a freshman in 2018 when Hunterdon Central stormed to the NJSIAA Group 4 championship.
“Being a Hunterdon Central guy, this honor means even more to me,” said Czarnecki, “I’ve played in the Kevin Gilbert Whiffle Ball Tournament.”
Czarnecki will play in the outfield for Hunterdon Central this spring. He batted .377 and drove in 17 runs his sophomore season at Hunterdon Central.
“Nick’s versatility and fluid left-handed swing have been strengths for us and, I believe, will help him contribute to the program at Monmouth, too,” said Hunterdon Central coach Kevin Cuozzi.”
Tommy Delany, Princeton High/Univ. of Penn
Delany has been a Diamond Jack for five years, starting at the 13U level.
“I was very fortunate to have the great coaches I’ve had with the Diamond Jacks,” says Delany. “My teammates were great and I learned a lot from everyone. I saw my character grow in my experience with my coaches and teammates here.”
Delany was converted from a catcher to a full-time pitcher during his time with the Diamond Jacks, so the righthander brings an excellent perspective to the mound.
Matt Miceli, Somerville/Stony Brook University
Another outstanding ballplayer who broke onto the high school scene as a freshman, Miceli will play shortstop for Somerville High this spring before moving on to Stony Brook University.
Miceli was a big contributor his freshman season when Somerville rolled to the NJSIAA Group 3 championship and he followed that with an impressive sophomore campaign. He batted .365 with 28 hits and drove in 16 runs for the 18-7 Pioneers in 2019. He also stole eight bases.
Miceli has been a longtime Diamond Jack, too, joining the program as a 13 year-old. “I made friendships here that will last a lifetime,” he said. “Our coaches developed me so well and prepared me to play in college.”
Haydn Strycharz, North Hunterdon/N.Y. Maritime
Strycharz, who joined the Diamond Jacks as a 12 year-old, relished the college seminars that coincided with the Gilbert Scholarship presentation each year. The seminar was not held this year due to pandemic restrictions.
“Coming to those seminars, I would have never thought I’d be one of the honorees one day,” said Strycharz. The left-hander bound for N.Y. Maritime will be utilized on the mound and at the plate for his North Hunterdon High School team this spring.
The lefty-hitting Strycharz had a memorable and remarkable start to his high school career. North Hunterdon coach Mike Kane brought him up in the middle of the 2019 season and the sophomore responded in a big way, hitting a grand slam and a two-run double in his first two varsity at bats.
A strong four-pitch arsenal will benefit his high school team this spring and the 18U Diamond Jacks, since Strycharz will play one more summer of ball with the Diamond Jacks in preparation for his freshman year of college ball. For now, he’ll cherish being mentioned in the same sentence as Kevin Gilbert.
“It means so much to receive the scholarship,” says Strycharz. “I’m friends with some people who knew Kevin and I heard only good things about him. I know he was a standup guy and a great teammate.”
Gilbert quoted sportswriter Mike Nalepa in is his essay and that quote provides an apropos ending here.
“There is a soothing rhythm to it all, pitch-by-pitch, inning-by-inning. Baseball is a world of order, interrupted by brief, breathtaking moments of chaos, where memories and heroes can be made. It has unlimited potential. It can be ugly one moment and beautiful the next. It is part play, part profanity, and part poetry. And really, what is more American than that?” Gilbert said the quote “speaks to me.” It speaks to all of us, Kevin.