Maldonado, Bergamotto, Yarson, Wright share Gilbert scholarship

By Bob Behre | April 20, 2022

While the four names above strung together may sound like an imposing law firm, the fact of the matter is this quartet of ball players is simply an intimidating group of athletes on the diamond.

More importantly, each share similar values to a ball player whose memory remains strong and his example powerful to those who played with him, knew him or simply admired his legacy.

Kevin Gilbert was a Diamond Jack, a talented center fielder at Hunterdon Central and a quietly effective leader on and off the field. Kevin was very much looking forward to a promising senior year with the Red Devils and an exciting career that lay ahead at Temple University and beyond.

Gilbert, however, never made it to that senior season. He died in an automobile accident shortly before the start of that 2011 season. The loss of Gilbert’s life shook his family, friends, teammates and the baseball community as a whole. Kevin’s mother, Karen, spearheaded scholarships in her son’s name at Hunterdon Central.

Flemington-based Diamond Nation had a broad base of players and coaches impacted by Kevin’s death, so began the Gilbert Scholarship fund the following winter, as well, to honor the memory of a player and person it deemed the prototype of what a Diamond Jack should strive to be.

The four high school seniors – Chris Maldonado, Nick Bergamotto, Dom Yarson and Matty Wright – honored with the prestigious 11th Kevin Gilbert Scholarship are longtime Diamond Jacks. Each met the scholarship committee’s stringent academic, athletic and character requirements and had to submit an essay as part of the application.

“Kevin exemplified all the qualities we expect from the student-athletes in our Diamond Jacks program,” said Diamond Nation Vice President Nick Massari. “Our scholarship is in honor of one of our own who, sadly, passed away on March 12, 2011. The 2022 class meets all of the qualities Kevin Gilbert put forth every day as a Diamond Jack.”

Kevin Gilbert was a remarkably talented baseball player and a leader among his peers in the Diamond Jacks program. It is no simple task to meet the scholarship requirements.

Nine specific boxes had to be checked by the committee for a scholarship candidate to meet the Kevin Gilbert standard. They include; being a great teammate, always hustling, playing the game the way it should be played, showing leadership on and off the field, performing well in the classroom, working hard even when no one is watching, winning and losing with class, is a person of integrity, and has fun playing the great game of baseball.

Gilbert penned an essay for one of his high school classes just four days before his death and that essay reveals much about his love for the game of baseball. In the essay, he quoted author Mike Nalepa’s take on the game.

“There is a soothing rhythm to it all, pitch-by-pitch, inning-by-inning. Baseball is a world of order, interrupted by brief, breathtaking moments of chaos, where memories and heroes can be made. It has unlimited potential. It can be ugly one moment and beautiful the next. It is part play, part profanity, and part poetry. And really, what is more American than that?”

Each scholarship recipient received $2,500 to use toward college tuition and/or other expenses incurred for higher education.

Kevin Gilbert Scholarship recipients:

Chris Maldonado – Seton Hall Prep/Clemson – 6-1, 190 IF/RHP

Bio: Maldonado has been a starter at perennial Non-Public powerhouse Seton Hall Prep since his freshman season and a big contributor. He batted .369 that freshman season in 2019 with 31 hits, eight doubles and 29 RBI. He also reached base on 11 walks and was hit by a pitch seven times. Those numbers blossomed in 2021 when he batted .419 with 36 hits, 27 runs and 35 RBI. He ripped six doubles and six home runs while drawing 17 walks.

Quote from Chris: “Being a recipient of the Kevin Gilbert scholarship is a great honor and something I am extremely proud of. I am very proud that the selection committee views me as a person and baseball player who exemplifies all of the things that made Kevin the great person and competitor he was. I will continue to play the game I love with great passion and respect as a tribute to great examples like Kevin.”

Coach’s comment: “Chris is the prototypical representative of the Kevin Gilbert Scholarship,” said one of his former Diamond Jack coaches Kevin Cust. “Kevin was not a rah, rah kid and he simply went about his business. Chris is just like that. He’s a great teammate and his work ethic is second to none. He’s always been a step ahead of everyone else in terms of his readiness to play and his preparation for the next level. He’s more of a quiet leader who does a good job putting his team on his shoulders. To me, silent leaders are the best ones. You lead by your actions, like Chris. He’s the complete package. He’s just a great kid and the perfect representation for this honor.

Nick Bergamotto has been a dynamo in the field and at the plate for both the Diamond Jacks and Caldwell High.

Nick Bergamotto – Caldwell/Siena – 5-8, 180 IF/OF

Bio: Bergamotto has been a big producer for Group 2 Caldwell the past two seasons, which has always been a tough customer to deal with regardless of the size of an opposing school. For example, Nick went 3-for-3 in a huge 6-3 victory over No. 19-ranked Seton Hall Prep on Wednesday. That lifted his batting average to .474 (9-for-19) on the season. He already has 10 RBI for his 5-2 team. A year ago, Bergamotto’s terrific junior campaign included a .432 batting average with 35 hits, 31 runs and 24 RBI. He ripped 11 doubles, two triples and stole 21 bases.

Quote from Nick: “I’m honored to be named a Kevin Gilbert scholarship winner. To be recognized under the same light as someone with such high character and determination as Kevin Gilbert is something that I will never take for granted. I strive to always be a better person than I am a baseball player. Being a recipient of this scholarship gives me hope that I’m heading in the right direction.”

Coach’s comment: “What he overcame at a young age, with his Dad’s illness, was impressive,” said Nick’s Diamond Jacks Super 14U coach Walt Cleary. “He never missed anything and always did what he was supposed to do. He’s worked his tail off. He’s a shorter right-handed hitter who just hit everywhere he played. He was a role player with us early on at the 14U level and he soon became a leader and stayed a leader through the years. Nick is a super high character kid, a great student and a kid with a high baseball IQ.”

Dom Yarson is an excellent two-way player with an infectiously positive approach on the diamond.

Dom Yarson – Ewing/New Jersey City State – 6-1, 160 IF/P

Bio: Yarson has been an excellent two-way player for Ewing, which competes in Mercer County’s baseball-centric Colonial Valley Conference. Dom batted .357 a year ago, scoring 30 runs and driving in nine. He’s taken the reins as staff ace this spring to heart, posting thorough complete-game victories in his first two starts. Yarson has permitted just two runs on 10 hits in 14 sterling innings, striking out 10 and walking just one. One of his victories was a 3-1 effort over a very good Hamilton West team. 

Quote from Dom: “I am honored to be a recipient of the Kevin Gilbert Scholarship. It means the world to me. Coming to the Diamond Jacks organization, I learned more than I could have imagined from our experienced coaching staff and elite players. But, more importantly, they taught me to be a good person on and off the field, and showed the example of what it takes to compete at the next level. I am extremely grateful and humbled to receive this scholarship, knowing that my hard work has paid off. I’m proud to be a DJack!”

Coach’s comment: “That smile that kid has on his face when he’s on a baseball field is unbelievable,” says Travis Anderson, Diamond Nation’s On-Field Coordinator. “Dom loves the game and he has a contagious energy that is even infectious to his coaches. He’s always positive. He’s a little shot of energy. That is the part of him that reminds you of Kevin Gilbert. And it reminds you how special Kevin was as a team guy and a really good baseball player. I used to always make it a point to go over to say hi to Dom. He was being coached by Browny (Chris Brown) but I needed a shot of his energy. As a human being, he’s just awesome. He’s that kid you want to be around. I’ve never seen him down, and that’s genuine. It comes from a good place. Whatever Dom does in life he’s going to make a positive impact on how people view his generation. He’s a kid who is so excited and happy for his teammates when they are doing well, even if he’s having a bad game.”

Matty Wright can beat you at the plate, in the field or at baseball’s little intricacies.

Matty Wright – Somerville/Stony Brook – 5-9, 183 OF

Bio: Wright is a dynamo on the field, be it as a center fielder tracking down shots in the gap or setting the table for Somerville’s potent offense. Wright batted .435 in 2021 for his high school team with 30 hits, 30 runs, 18 RBI, six doubles, one HR, drew 11 walks and was hit by a pitch nine times. He also stole 11 bases. Wright can also lay down a bunt for sacrifice or hit with the best of them. Matty picked up right from where he left off in 2021 at the start of this season, opening at 4-for-8 (.500), scoring four runs and driving in three runs in Somerville’s first two games. But Wright has been limited, of late, with a pulled groin muscle.

Quote from Matty: “I’m honored to be a recipient of the Kevin Gilbert Scholarship and grateful for the recognition from my coaches. I’m lucky to have had the opportunity to play for the Diamond Jacks for seven years. I certainly would not be where I am today without their support and knowledge.”

Coach’s comment: “Matty has a lot of on-the-field as well as off-the-field qualities of Kevin Gilbert,” says his former Diamond Jacks coach Steve DiTrolio. “He has a quiet confidence about him and leads by example. But Matty will flip the switch once the game starts. An outfielder, like Kevin, Matty was also a solidifying part of the DJack teams coming through the system. I am happy that he is being recognized for his love of the game and the hard work he always puts in. Kevin would be proud and would have loved to play in the same outfield as Matty, as would I, because nothing would have fallen in.”

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