Kevin Gilbert Scholarship recipients (center) Jimmy Mulvaney, Brayden Keller and Jake Dally are flanked by, from left, Travis Andersons, Mike Buckelew, Josh Ake, Mike Cust, Kevin Cust, Gary and Karen Gilbert and Walt Cleary. Recipients Logan and Lance Eilbacher were not present for the photo.
By Bob Behre
When Logan Eilbacher began the application process for Diamond Nation’s Kevin Gilbert Scholarship, he decided he needed to be better informed on what Gilbert was all about.
“In writing my essay, I did some research on Kevin, and I found an article on nj.com,” said Eilbacher. “In the article I found all the qualities that he had exhibited in his life and the impact he had on the community. Kevin was more than just a baseball player. He was someone who stood for something.”
Anyone who knew Kevin Gilbert during his short life would surely agree with Logan’s assessment. Diamond Nation has honored 52 recipients of the Gilbert Scholarship since 2012, including this year’s recipients Jake Dally, twin brothers Logan and Lance Eilbacher, Brayden Keller and Jimmy Mulvaney.
Kevin Gilbert was a remarkably talented baseball player, honor student and a leader among his peers in the Diamond Jacks program when he died in an automobile accident shortly before the start of his senior season at Hunterdon Central High School in 2011. Flemington-based Diamond Nation began the scholarship fund that year to honor the memory of a player and person it deemed the prototype of what the young players in its program, the Diamond Jacks, should strive to be.
Gilbert is also remembered as the prototype teammate, friend and leader. His outstanding abilities on the field led to his commitment to play baseball in college at Temple University and Kevin was even asked to an invitation-only workout with the Houston Astros.
This year’s honorees, Dally of Nazareth, Pa., the Eilbacher brothers from Hopewell, N.J., Keller of Somerville and Readington resident Mulvaney each personify the qualities Kevin Gilbert brought to the ball field and the field of life.
The Gilbert Scholarship recipients were honored last Thursday at TD Bank Park in Bridgewater prior to the Somerset Patriots game against the Binghamton Rumble Ponies. Also present for the ceremonies were Kevin Gilbert’s parents, Karen and Gary. The presence of Josh Ake, a current Diamond Jacks coach and Infield Instructor and a high school teammate of Gilbert, added a special poignancy to the ceremony.
Kevin Gilbert’s parents, Karen and Gary, flank Kevin’s former teammate, DJack coach Josh Ake.
Each year’s scholarship recipients must meet stringent academic, athletic and character requirements and complete an essay. In preparing his essay, Logan Eilbacher felt a kinship with Gilbert.
“This award means more than just baseball,” he said. “It’s about something bigger, about being a better person. In many ways, I could see parts of myself in him. We both shared a passion and drive for being our best and just having fun.”
That kinship with Gilbert has seemed to be a common thread that runs through all of the recipients over the years.
The Eilbacher brothers will attend Catholic University in September, Dally is bound for Binghamton University, Keller is matriculating to Scranton University and Mulvaney will pitch for Fairfield University.
Lance Eilbacher, who played center field and batted nearly .500 this past spring for Notre Dame of Lawrenceville, is clearly touched, as well, with being associated with Kevin Gilbert.
“It means a lot, knowing the amount of players that come through this great program,” says Lance. “I am honored to be a part of the select few picked for this scholarship. It shows that baseball is more than just a game, it’s about who you impact on and off the field.”
Each scholarship honoree received $2,500 to use for educational purposes.
Jake had a monster senior season at Nazareth Area High School in Pennsylvania and was named Lehigh Valley Live’s Player of the Year. The shortstop batted an astonishing .549, hit 4 home runs and drove in 30 runs. He was also 5-0 on the mound with a 0.91 ERA. He struck out 50 batters in 30⅔ innings. Jake will begin his college career at Binghamton University in September.
Dally began playing with the Diamond Jacks at the age of 13.
Jake says: “It really means everything to me to receive the Kevin Gilbert Scholarship and represent the Diamond Jacks the right way. I’m very proud of that. I’ve been blessed to be part of this program.”
Lance patrolled center field for Notre Dame of Lawrenceville while batting .393 with 31 hits, including five doubles, three triples and a home run. He drove in 12 runs and scored 22 runs. Lance will begin his college career at Catholic University in September.
Lance began playing with the Diamond Jacks at the age of 13.
Lance says: “Kevin represented so many outstanding qualities and being selected as one who represents them means a lot to me. When applying for this scholarship it gave me a chance to take a step back and realize that there is more to it. Kevin displayed leadership along with being a student of the game.
Logan was frighteningly consistent at the plate, batting .493 with 33 hits and 26 RBI to go with 11 doubles and three home runs. He slugged at a .791 pace and scored 22 runs. Logan earned NJ.com’s 3rd Team All-Non Public. He will play alongside his twin brother at Catholic University.
Logan began playing with the Diamond Jacks at the age of 13.
Logan says: I was grateful to be a candidate and honored to be a recipient of the Gilbert Scholarship. It gave me a chance to look back on my journey with the program. I remember I entered a nervous kid that didn’t expect much of himself, but through adversity and being able to play on the Super team along with Jimmy and Jake, I learned so much about myself and the type of baseball player I was and could be.
Gilbert Scholarship recipients Logan (left) and Lance Eilbacher flank DJack coach Josh Ake.
Brayden had a knack for finding his way on base this spring. The first baseman had 23 hits, drew 16 walks and was hit by a pitch 7 times while batting .348 for Somerville. The All-Skyland Conference selection had eight extra-base hits. He will continue his baseball career at Scranton University in September.
Brayden began playing with the Diamond Jacks at the age of 15.
Brayden says: “This honor reflects a lot of hard work, on and off the field, and great direction from my Diamond Jack coaches and my family. It means a lot to me to receive such a prestigious scholarship.”
Jimmy’s submarine delivery became a source of consternation for opposing batters as he went 8-3 with a 1.52 ERA, striking out 67 batters and walking just 10 in 64⅓ innings for St. Joseph of Metuchen. Jimmy pitched his team to the GMC tournament championship. He will begin his college career at Fairfield University in September.
Mulvaney began playing with the Diamond Jacks at 9 years old and even played in the instructional Patriots program at Diamond Nation from the age of 5.
Jimmy says: “Kevin Gilbert is someone you want to be like. Everything I’ve heard about Kevin is that he played hard and played the game the right way. I’m proud to receive the scholarship in his name and to be associated with him and all the great past recipients of this honor.”
More on Kevin Gilbert: Kevin began playing with the Jack Cust Baseball Academy and the Diamond Jacks, playing first on a gold team before the NJ Super 17 and NJ Super 18 teams, which won numerous championships.
Gilbert played on the varsity baseball team at Hunterdon Central his sophomore and junior years. The Red Devils won the 2009 NJSIAA Group IV State Championship with the sophomore Gilbert in center field. His high school team also won the Hunterdon/Warren County Tournament and the Skyland Conference championships in 2009. In 2010, Gilbert’s junior season, Hunterdon Central won the Hunterdon/Warren/Sussex Championship. He and his team were planning on making another championship run in 2011.