Chris Maldonado, Dom Yarson, Matty Wright and Nick Bergamotto receive Kevin Gilbert Scholarship.
By Rich Bevensee
While the senior ballplayers from the Diamond Jacks program seemed amazingly calm and took everything in stride, it was the parents who were awestruck by the moment and what it signified.
Gina Maldonado talked about how bittersweet it was to watch her youngest child accept a college scholarship and prepare for the next level of baseball. Nick Bergamotto, choked up by the process, thanked the coaches and administrators who helped his son reach this point in his life.
On Thursday at TD Bank Ballpark in Bridgewater – home of the Somerset Patriots, the New York Yankees Double-A affiliate – longtime Diamond Jacks Nick Bergamotto, Chris Maldonado, Matty Wright and Dom Yarson were honored with the 11th Kevin Gilbert Scholarship in an on-field ceremony before the Patriots’ game against the visiting Hartford Yard Goats, the Double-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies.
Each recipient received $2,500 to be used toward his college education and/or other expenses incurred for higher education.
The scholarship is named for Kevin Gilbert, a Hunterdon Central senior and Diamond Jack whose life was cut short in March 2011 in a single car accident when Gilbert was on his way to Central for a preseason, early-morning practice.
Diamond Nation began the scholarship fund that year to honor his memory and the D-Jacks player who personified the type of person and player a Diamond Jack should strive to be. With Thursday’s ceremony, 47 scholarship recipients have been honored. Gilbert’s parents Gary and Karen were on hand Thursday for the presentation.
“This means the world, honestly,” said Yarson, a 6-1, 170-pound pitcher from Ewing High who’s headed for New Jersey City State. “Not everyone has this opportunity so I’m very thankful for everything Diamond Nation and the Diamond Jacks have given to me. The opportunities have been life changing.”
Yarson and his fellow honorees all mentioned how they were looking forward to being in the Patriots ballpark and to watch former New Jersey prep star Anthony Volpe, the Patriots’ starting shortstop. Volpe, a Delbarton grad who was a Diamond Jack himself for several years, was the Yankees’ first round draft pick in 2019.
“Right now I’m just living in the moment,” said Wright, a 5-9, 180-pound center fielder at Somerville who’s bound for Stony Brook. “It will be really cool to see Volpe. For me, I’m looking forward to the next step and having more people at all the games. I’m not nervous at all – it’s an opportunity. The Diamond Jacks have taught me everything to this point, how to play and how to play the game right. All the coaches know what they’re doing.”
Despite the scholarship and the stage on which it was presented, if any ballplayer was bittersweet about moving on from high school and club ball, it was Bergamotto.
“The one thing I never realized playing at Diamond Nation is all the relationships that you have, beyond baseball,” said Bergamotto, a 5-8, 180-pound middle infielder from Caldwell headed for Siena. “The relationships at Diamond Nation mean a lot to me. That’s what I’m really grateful for besides receiving a scholarship. We were all close on my Diamond Jacks team. We’re going to keep in touch in college. The fact that we all got along made the experience that much better.”
Chris Maldonado may have had the most experience of any of the four scholarship winners when it comes to being exposed to baseball at a higher level. His elder brother Nick is a senior relief pitcher at Division 1 Vandy, and last winter he trained with Volpe.
That’s not to say Maldonado took Thursday’s experience for granted. But it’s clear from his demeanor that he’s not overcome by the setting or the upcoming challenge, either. He leaves for Vandy with his brother Aug. 19.
“I’ve been a Diamond Jack for a long time, we’ve stayed loyal to the program, me and my brother, and to receive this award as a member of the Diamond Jacks means a lot,” said Chris, a 6-1, 190-pound pitcher and infielder at Seton Hall Prep.
“I know Volpe as a person – he’s a great kid and obviously he’s very talented but also he’s an even better person,” Maldonado said. “I talked to Anthony over the winter and hit with him. He’s given me great advice on professional baseball. My dream is ultimately to be a pro baseball player, and he’s given me great advice about that, like having a routine keeps you mentally prepared for every day.
“I don’t look at him like other people might, but I do realize how incredible the moment is.”
For Gina Maldonado, it was her second time enjoying this process. Three years ago, her son Nick, a 2019 Seton Hall Prep graduate, was awarded with the same scholarship.
“Today seems bigger, I guess because it’s the last one, so more emotional for me because it’s Chris. He’s the baby.
“I think the Diamond Jacks program has been amazing over the years, and I’m so happy my sons were surrounded by such amazing coaches. They have been great for my kids to look up to all these years.”
Nick Bergamotto nearly broke down when asked about the momentous occasion, as he swelled with pride and heartfelt appreciation for what the Diamond Jacks program has done for his son.
“This means a lot, a whole lot,” Bergamotto said. “The Diamond Jacks experience has been awesome. It means a lot to receive the Kevin Gilbert Scholarship because he was so respected, it means a lot to Nick to receive this award, and seeing him recognized for the way he plays the game means a lot to our family.”
Volpe tips his cap
Volpe, the former Diamond Jack, weighed in on the festivities. The Yankees’ No. 1 prospect offered his congratulations to the Diamond Jacks foursome and reaffirmed what they were thankful for, specifically the biggest pillars of the program, friendships, coaching and athletic development.
“Moving out of New York City and into New Jersey, my family didn’t really know what the baseball landscape was,” Volpe said. “Just to have a program like that – it was all encompassing, with amazing coaches and teammates who I still talk to this day and were really good to play with.
“They were really important years I played over there. There was a lot of growth that happened for me personally and I don’t think any of it would have happened without those coaches.”
I love and miss my brother kevin. He is in my dreams, no one better than him. He taught me life, nothing about coaching.