By Rich Bevensee
The timeworn proverb “familiarity breeds contempt” was written by Chaucer nearly 1,000 years ago. Baseball teammates like Ray Stein and Nick Smith are here to suggest it’s time for that dusty, old adage to be put to rest.
Stein and Smith spent the last few months together on the St. Peter’s Prep freshman baseball team, and they strongly believe their success has stemmed from their comfort level as a battery.
“Nick’s a really good catcher, he’s got a great arm, and I just trust him,” Stein said. “I know he’s going to catch my stuff the way I want it to be caught. When you’re throwing to a brand new catcher, you don’t know if he knows what to call or how to frame it or how to catch it. But Nick just knows. He knows exactly how to do it.”
Perhaps it was that comfort level between pitcher and catcher, now teammates for Jersey Boyz 15U, which enabled Stein to maneuver in and out of trouble on Saturday evening in the Home Run Classic at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
Northeast Monarchs Gold put its leadoff batter on first base five times in six innings. They pestered Stein by loading the bases twice and moving runners into scoring position at every turn. They pushed the tying runner to third in the bottom of the sixth.
And every time, Stein weathered the storm. In the sixth, he emphatically slammed the door on the Monarchs with a game-ending strikeout to boost the Jersey Boyz to a season-opening 5-4 victory.
“We built this chemistry over the past few months and now it’s translating to travel ball and he keeps pitching great,” Smith said. “He’s a great player but he’s also got heart. On that last out you could see how electrified he was when he got off the mound, striking that last guy out.”
Stein, the first to admit he got himself into trouble more than a few times, completed his first club outing of the season by allowing four runs on six hits, five walks and a hit batsman.
The damage would have been much worse were it not for a crafty blend of his fastball, curve and slider. He struck out seven and stranded seven runners in scoring position.
“Ray was a bulldog today,” Jersey Boyz coach Jose Vargas said. “He had a couple of jams and worked right through it. He got a big strikeout in more than one inning and had some defensive plays behind him. Situations and pressure are what he handles best. Even when he struggles we still have a good chance to win. The stage wasn’t too big for him.”
The Jersey Boyz received offensive production from several sources and they would need every one of them because the game featured four lead changes.
The crucial frame for the Jersey Boyz was the top of the fourth in which they trailed 4-3. Danny Gronda and Smith singled and Sam Maitlin walked to load the bases but the Monarchs got a fielder’s choice out. Landon Pinho was hit by a pitch to reload the bases and No. 3 hitter Isaac Holland forced in the tying run with a walk, his third of the game.
Orlando Shin then saw his infield pop up land safely behind first base to drive home Maitlin with the eventual winning run.
In the Monarchs’ half of the sixth, Gabe Rivera led off by drilling a laser headed for the right center gap before second baseman Matt Perrotto perfectly timed his leap to snare the liner for the first out. Perrotto was in the middle of another web gem in the first inning when he teamed with shortstop Shin to turn a double play.
The next Monarch batter, Derek Mateo – who held the Jersey Boyz scoreless over the final two frames – blasted a 3-1 pitch into the left center gap for a triple.
Stein responded to the early-season, pressure-cooker situation by getting a pair of strikeouts, one looking and one swinging, to end the contest.
“In the spring I faced a lot of jams and that helped me deal with pressure,” Stein said. “Honestly I got a lot of help from my fielders. There was a double play in the first inning and Perrotto helped me with that line drive catch.
“I try not to get too stressed by staying calm and collected. I definitely take a lot of deep breaths and I tell myself to just throw strikes.”
The Jersey Boyz pounced first in the second inning when Maitlin sliced an opposite-field, RBI single down the right field line to score Perrotto.
The Monarchs responded by scratching out two runs for a 2-1 lead when Rigo Mercedes earned a bases-loaded walk and Thomas Galan had a fielder’s choice RBI.
It was the Jersey Boyz’ turn to reclaim the lead, 3-2, in the top of the third when Stein helped his own cause with a two-run single up the middle.
The Monarchs grabbed the lead for the final time, 4-3, in the bottom of the third when Gio Bausone blasted a two-run double to right.
Three Monarchs handled the pitching in the evening contest. Hard-throwing Edwin Diaz allowed three runs on three hits and six walks and a hit batsman but also struck out six in his 2⅔ innings of work.
Christian Quirindongo pitched 1⅓ innings, permitting two runs on four hits and two walks. Mateo polished off the Jersey Boyz with two scoreless frames of work, allowing just one walk and striking out one.
The Jersey Boyz split their evening doubleheader when they lost to Jersey Shore Wildcats 11-8. They then dropped a 9-0 decision to ASBA Futures Navy in a 12:15 p.m. game Sunday to complete pool play.
Prior to the Jersey Boyz game, the Monarchs Gold squad defeated ASBA Futures Navy 6-3. The Monarchs defeated the Jersey Shore Wildcats, 5-3, in their 2:15 p.m. game on Sunday.