Jimmy Mulvaney has not had far to travel to find the magical baseball experiences of his youth, work on his development in the sport as a teenager on the diamond, and even find a Division 1 college home.
Mulvaney may be the longest tenured Diamond Jack in the program’s history, especially if you consider he’s played on a Diamond Nation team since he was 9 years old and has participated in one developmental program after another at the Flemington facility since he was 5 years old.
Mulvaney, a nasty righty sidearmer, committed to Fairfield University on Sept. 28. He’s come full circle, in a way, since attempting to pick up grounders in the Patriot League as a precocious 5 year-old.
“Obviously, that I’ve been here at Diamond Nation since I was 5 speaks for itself,” said Mulvaney, a resident of nearby Readington. “I remember driving past Diamond Nation when I was little and saying ‘I’ll play there one day.’ The coaches here made me love the game and helped me so much to develop as a player.”
Mulvaney, suddenly a junior at St. Joseph of Metuchen, has done an awful lot of playing at Diamond Nation and beyond, beginning at the 10U level as a 9 year old and continuing through his most recent elevation to the Diamond Jacks’ most prestigious team, the Super 17U squad.
“I remember how proud I was wearing my first Diamond Jacks hat,” he said. Conversely, Mulvaney has honored the Diamond Jack logo and name as well as the organization and its coaches could have hoped.
Mulvaney began his high school experience at Hunterdon Central, his home district, but transferred after his freshman year to St. Joseph. A strong first season in Metuchen preceded an outstanding summer of 2021 that quickly directed the attention of Division 1 schools his way.
“I started off my high school season decently,” said Mulvaney. “I had a couple good outings, then hit a rough patch. I did finish strong. I guess I had the ups and down of a sophomore. But I learned to battle. Looking back now, I’m happy how I did. I wasn’t that happy at the time.”
Mulvaney’s 31.1 innings was certainly a healthy sampling for a sophomore, particularly at such a high profile Greater Middlesex Conference program. He went 3-1 with a 4.46 ERA while permitting 20 earned runs, striking out 35 and walking 13 in a season that should be an ideal one to grow on come the spring of 2022.
“Jimmy likes doing the work,” said St. Joseph coach Mike Murray. “I’m looking forward to seeing all he’ll accomplish in the next two high school springs. You see a ton of guys just like him on Division 1 rosters. He competes and has a high IQ on the mound.”
Mulvany transitioned rather smoothly from that experience-rich high school season against strong GMC competition to a highly competitive summer with the Diamond Jacks Super 16U team.
“Summer season is a lot of pressure in a different way,” said Mulvaney. “You know college coaches are watching.” That didn’t seem to affect Mulvaney negatively because he had what he called, “one of my best summers.” He posted a 7-0 record with the Super 16U squad and a 1.40 ERA. “I think I pitched my best on the Alabama (June) and Georgia (July) trips.”
Those high-profile performances triggered serious interest from several schools and Jimmy quickly had offers from Fairfield, Holy Cross, Elon and Florida Atlantic. Penn State hadn’t offered but there was enough interest there to keep Mulvaney thinking the Big Ten school was a possibility as well.
Fairfield, however, was the last of those schools to offer Mulvaney.
“I visited Fairfield last year this time and it jumped out at me as a good business program,” he said. “I was looking academics first.” Then Fairfield went out and had a dream season for the MAAC program, registering a staggering 39-5 record last spring and reaching the regional round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. Fairfield went 2-2 at the Regional, including a victory over Arizona State. The season earned head coach Bill Currier an extension through 2026.
“Fairfield saw me pitch at Diamond Nation (early in the summer) and I didn’t do well,” said Mulvaney. “It was pouring rain and I was kicked in the head covering home plate. Then I slipped off the mound a couple times.” This didn’t happen in a nightmare. It actually happened at Diamond Nation to a kid who takes the mound with supreme confidence.
But that outing was a blip on the screen of an otherwise outstanding summer for Mulvaney. “I threw in front of them again and I started calling them, letting them know my interest. After Georgia everything (in recruiting) picked up for me.”
Mulvaney spoke to Elon and began getting offers. His summer post-game experience on the road entailed a lot of time working the cell phone talking to college coaches. “I didn’t hear from Fairfield for awhile and almost wrote them off,” he said. “Then I finally spoke to coach (Jordan) Tabakman, their pitching coach, and he said they really wanted to get me on campus the first or second week of September.
“Once I started walking around the campus I knew it was for me,” said Mulvaney, who also visited Holy Cross, Elon, Penn State and Stony Brook. “I knew if they made me an offer I’d really want to accept it. I met coach Currier and he sold the school to me. Not that he had to at that point.”
Two days before Mulvaney left on a Florida trip with his Diamond Jacks Super 17U squad, he called Fairfield and committed. “It definitely was a big relief,” he said. “There was a lot of excitement. But that doesn’t change anything work wise. The work remains the same.”
Murray believes Fairfield is getting a good one.
“The staff at Fairfield knows it is getting a young man who gets it done in the classroom, on the field and in the community,” said Murray. “I think as he keeps getting after it and continues to develop, he is going to be really tough on college hitters.”
Mulvaney may not light up the radar guns, at least not yet, but the 6-0, 185-pounder did touch 83 this summer and is still five months from his 17th birthday. His pitching repertoire is enhanced by a delivery that can be described by opposing batters as “a pain in the neck.”
Jimmy has a sidearm delivery that he developed accidentally and, at first, drew concerns from Diamond Nation’s coaching staff.
“I was about 13 when I started getting lower in my delivery,” Mulvaney said. “I didn’t even notice I was doing it. It caused my coaches to meet with me and discuss what the heck I was doing. I said, ‘I’m just throwing the way that feels good to me.’ I really feel it’s less that my arm is lower and more that my body is lower.”
Mulvaney throws a slider and changeup, along with his fastball, but its the slider that is murder on hitters. “My best days are when I have the best movement on my slider and I’m able to locate,” he said. “I’m very different for hitters. It’s not often kids see a sidearm pitcher. I can throw a first-pitch fastball or sneak one in when they are looking for the slider.”
Jimmy credits Diamond Jack coach Evan DeLuca and his pitching guru Jim Wladyka for helping him fine tune both his sidearm motion and coordinate his pitch-mix.
“Evan helped me realize what path I was going with the sidearm motion,” said Mulvaney. “He’s a lower side guy, too.” DeLuca, a lefty, pitched in the Yankees farm system and made it to Double-A ball with Kansas City. Wladyka, a righty, pitched for St. John’s University and reached Single-A with the Mets and Royals. “The past year or two coach Wladyka has really helped me to focus on my pitch mix.”
DeLuca’s approach was to not change something that was coming naturally to Mulvaney.
“I supported Jimmy’s windup from the beginning,” said DeLuca, an Immaculata High grad. “I was a low three-quarter guy, so I told him not to listen to the white noise about his delivery. He was doing something that came natural to him and he became a Division 1 athlete doing exactly that.”
DeLuca sees more than just a physically capable pitcher in Mulvaney.
“The content of Jimmy’s character goes way beyond his baseball ability,” said DeLuca. “He’s a great kid and he’s working to become a well developed young man. He listens to his coaches, takes criticisms maturely and gives good feedback. He really is working hard to become the best version of himself, not what someone else thinks he should be.”
The story about Jimmy Mulvaney could not possibly be complete without the inclusion of his good friend and neighbor Austin Nace. Austin was born with a genetic disease called Mucopolysaccharidosis, or MPS, and is battling the most aggressive form of the disease, MPS Type1-Hurler’s Syndrome. Nace has undergone an assortment of surgeries, upwards of 500 intravenous infusions, goes to physical therapy three times a week and speech and occupational therapy twice a week.
The average life expectancy for an MPS patient is 10 years. Austin’s courage in facing down his disease on a daily basis had made him more than the Diamond Jacks No. 1 fan. Austin, now 16, has truly been a team member, under Mulvaney’s encouragement, since the two boys were 11 years old. Nace far and away holds the record for most tournament MVP trophies won by a Diamond Jack.
Mulvaney brought Austin to the attention of his Diamond Jacks Super 11U coach Mike Buckelew in 2016 and Austin has since attended more games that can be counted from the 11U level straight through to Mulvaney’s current Super 17U team and St. Joseph’s.
“Let’s go, someone has to get Austin his Fairfield gear now,” said Murray.
Nace’s relationship with Mulvaney and his fellow Diamond Jack teammates remains a special one and the genuineness of it can be seen in the photos here.
“I met Austin in first grade and we started to get close when our parents met,” said Mulvaney. “The first time he came here, coach Buck’ asked me about him.” Buckelew then engineered a ceremony in which Nace was presented an 11U team jersey and made an honorary member of the team. The rest is Diamond Jack history and Nace has been one of the more important threads running through what has become a seven-year success story for Mulvaney, Nace and their Diamond Jack teammates.
“Austin lightens our mood and, at the same time, brings our attitude up,” said Mulvaney. “Through all he’s been through, surgeries, infusions, being quarantined during the pandemic, which had to be so hard for him, he always shows up smiling at our games. Our team is his second home.”
Buckelew, in turn, has been Mulvaney’s biggest fan since Day 1.
“Jimmy is a fantastic young man,” said Buckelew, who has been with the Diamond Jacks program as a coach and level coordinator since 2009. “From the first day I met him at the 10U level, he was the type of kid who would run through a brick wall for you. He is the ultimate competitor.
“He’s worked his tail off his entire time with us. He did whatever needed to be done from that young age up until now. His high character shows in a few ways outside the field as well. The first was when he asked me if he could bring his friend Austin on as a Diamond Jack. The next was, just recently, when he called me to tell me he was committing to Fairfield and that he wanted to thank me. That, honestly, choked me up.”
Despite his still very young age, Mulvaney has been a walking, talking, baseball playing example of how to approach life. All in. All the time.
Notes: Fairfield’s pitching coach Tabakman was really a terrific high school player at Pequannock High School, so much so he was recruited and committed to North Carolina, where he spent the first year of his college experience. He transferred to UConn where set the school record for career innings-pitched. He played his high school ball at 6-4, 210 pounds and got an awful lot out of that frame. The Pompton Plains resident steered Pequannock to the 2009 NJSIAA Group 2 championship as a junior and was named First Team All-State by The Star-Ledger in 2010.
Tabakman was an all-around outstanding player, registering 100 career hits and he didn’t limit his ball playing to the diamond. Tabakman finished his senior season in 2010 as his school’s all-time leading scorer in boys basketball. We clarify, “boys” because his sister Samantha is Pequannock’s all-time girls leader and finished with more career points than her brother.
A pair of Diamond Jacks precede Mulvaney at Fairfield. The Erbeck brothers, Jack and Ricky, play for the Stags. Jack is a junior righty pitcher and Ricky is a freshman righty pitcher. Both were graduated from The Hun School.