Eli Foster comes from a large town, plays ball at the biggest travel baseball complex in the northeast, but, when it came down to his college choice, small prevailed.
Foster, a multi-tooled and versatile ball player, committed in early September to 6,700-student Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut.
“When I turn left I can see the football field,” said Foster. “When I turn right, I can see the soccer field. When I look straight ahead, I see the basketball arena.”
And when he isn’t working diligently at improving his skills in computer coding, Foster will be walking toward the Sacred Heart baseball complex to get his baseball jones on.
“I really liked the atmosphere there,” said Foster. “The coaches are very close knit and they have a great baseball complex. I don’t think I cared how big a school was, but I liked Sacred Heart right away.”
While schools like Monmouth and Binghamton were on Foster’s radar and Duke was an admitted longshot, Sacred Heart does seem a natural landing spot for a player whose stock is steadily on the rise.
“I think Sacred Heart is a good situation for Eli,” says his high school coach, Mike Sheppard, Jr. of Seton Hall Prep. Sacred Heart will begin its 2023 season with a new coach. Pat Egan has stepped in as the head man after spending the previous eight seasons as an assistant at another Connecticut Division 1 program, Quinnipiac.
“I met coach Egan and really like him,” said Foster, who has seen success as an infielder, hitter and pitcher. “We had a conversation about that. They see me as a two-way player. That’s the plan. I could play third base or move to second base.” Foster also boasts a fastball that has been clocked at 89.
The 6-0, 210-pound high school senior played both corner infield spots and saw a limited amount of time on the mound as a reliever during his junior season at Seton Hall Prep. What adds to the Foster intrigue for a college coach is the fact that he just turned 17 in August, so he is younger than most of his classmates and developing apace. Certainly “upside” is a word you’ll hear often with players like Foster.
Eli had a strong junior year for traditional statewide power Seton Hall, batting .314 with 22 hits, including three home runs and 19 RBI. More telling, his numbers reveal a well-rounded ball player. Foster drew 15 walks and reached base at a very frequent .442 pace. His .500 slugging percentage gave him a gaudy .942 OPS.
“At the beginning of the season, I was batting seventh and I was the only junior in the lineup,” said Foster. “I was trying too hard to prove myself and I was pulling off the ball, missing pitches I should have been hitting. I got back to what I do best, hitting the ball up the middle and going the other way. I started hitting off-speed pitches early in the count and I would look fastball at 2-2.”
That approach produced dividends as Foster became a reliable bat in the Seton Hall lineup.
“Eli batted fifth or sixth for us,” said Sheppard, Jr. “He puts the ball in play and he has some pop. He can drive the ball. He really did a nice job offensively for us.” Sheppard, Jr. recalled a big home run Foster hit in the Greater Newark Tournament quarterfinals.
Foster came to the plate with two runners aboard in the bottom of the ninth of a tense extra-inning elimination game against eventual NJSIAA North Jersey, Section 2, Group 4 champion Livingston. Foster latched onto an 0-1 fastball and launched it over the fence in left-center field at Rick Porcello Field for a thrilling walk-off home run and a 6-3 victory. Seton Hall would defeat Millburn in the semifinals and Bloomfield in the final to secure the GNT championship.
Foster’s development on the mound may be the most fascinating part of his game at this point, considering he hadn’t put in a sizable amount of innings until this past summer under the direction of Diamond Jacks Super 17U coach Kevin Cust.
“Eli made some great adjustments on the mound and at the plate when needed, ” said Cust. “He did a great job for us this summer and fall. He hit right in the middle of the order all year and was solid in relief in tough situations.”
Foster seemed to embrace that added responsibilities on the mound.
“I pitched a lot more this summer than in my high school season,” said Foster, who threw just 2.2 innings for Seton Hall. “I pitched 35 innings combined in the summer and fall. It went really well.”
Foster’s summer on the mound was jump-started by a fine performance in the Garden State Underclass Games in June. “I got control of my slider in the summer and fall and my velocity was about 87-89. I can hit 90.” While the slider is an addition to his arsenal, Foster throws a curveball and changeup with confidence. “I threw a lot of curveballs and changeups this summer, throwing them on 0-0 and 1-2 counts.”
Sheppard has informed Foster his pitching duties would increase this spring.
“I told Eli he can expect to pitch a lot next season,” said Sheppard, Jr. “He could be one of our starters. He told me he’d be ready.”
Foster credits his Diamond Jacks coach, Cust, for fine-tuning his pitcher mechanics during the summer season.
“I developed a really good relationship with coach Cust,” said Foster. “He helped me develop my slider. He told me early on I was going to pitch more this summer. We had a lot of pitching conversations and he was also great to talk to about my swing.”
Foster says he was very consistent at the plate this summer, but remembers Cust detecting an issue with his swing in the fall. “I was late on everything and he told me my hands were drifting before load.”
If Foster is anything, he is a student of the game.
“Coach Shep had our team working on going up the middle and hitting the other way early in the season,” said Foster. “We had that mindset the rest of the year. My swing plays well going the other way.”
Foster had a big week during a July trip to Alabama that turned the course of his summer for the better.
“I was batting sixth or seventh with Super 17,” he said. “But I did really well in Alabama. I was like 7-for-14 with a bunch of RBI and runs scored. I moved to fourth in the order after that. I really settled in and was hitting line drives up the middle and the other way.”
Foster is very strong in math and is gravitating toward computer science and computer coding as his course of study at Sacred Heart.
“On my visit to Sacred Heart, we saw the computer science and engineering building. The classes are small, so you have that good connection with your professors. I saw some of the engineering projects that were done there. It opened my eyes to what I can do in college. I think I have a natural grasp, a knack, for coding.”
But for now, Foster will be focused on his winter workouts and preparation for a senior season that will cast him in a leadership role. Seton Hall Prep will be making wholesale replacements at the varsity level after the departure of a senior-heavy 2022 squad.
“It will be an interesting season,” said Foster. “We’re going to have a lot of young guys with only a few returning varsity players. But we’re pretty confident in our young guys. All have the ability to play at a high level and do well. They’ll get to show what they’ve got.”
Foster, too, will get to show what he can do, both on the mound and as an everyday player, after another year of development with the Diamond Jacks program.
“My main goal before the spring is to get my velocity up to 94,” said Foster. “At the plate I want to get back to working on my pull side, then incorporate that with going up the middle. The main thing is being more consistent.”
Sheppard, Jr. knows he can count on Foster to be the leader and reliable teammate he has shown the past three years in the Pirates’ program.
“Eli was definitely a quiet kid as a freshman and JV player,” said Sheppard, Jr. “His coaches always talked about him, so I was looking forward to getting him on the varsity. There’s not a lot of (wasted) noise coming out of him. As a player and teammate, he never says no to anything. He was our most versatile player last year and added a lot to the team.”
Foster won’t be that player pounding his chest for attention.
“As a player, I’m laid back and don’t show that much expression,” he said. “I let my ability play for me. I just want to be there for my teammates.”
Sheppard, Jr. agrees with that assessment.
“Eli is a good all around kid, conscientious and unassuming,” says Sheppard, Jr. “You know you will get his best effort and he will perform well.”
Cust saw much of the same in Foster during his long summer/fall season.
“Eli is a very intelligent young man who has a lot of upside in his future, both on the field and off,” Cust said. “We look forward to watching him have a great senior year and continue that momentum into college.”