There is something innately heroic in the person who quietly and efficiently goes about his business with a stoic one-mindedness.
Lorenzo Meola makes no claim to heroism, but boasts often underrated blue-collar altruism in his approach to the game of baseball. And that, more than boisterous leadership, makes others want to follow him.
That Meola batted in the middle of a stacked Diamond Jacks Super 16U batting order this summer and played an important role in the middle infield and at third base would be a testament alone to his abilities on the field. Baseball, however, is much more than physical skills and Meola brings that little extra that makes coaches sleep well at night.
“‘Zo has a quiet intensity about him that you appreciate as a coach,” says Diamond Jacks recruiting coordinator Steve DiTrolio. “He hits the field and balls-out every inning of every game. I don’t see him take an inning or even plays off. He will compete every chance he gets.”
Those baseball skills, both from the neck up and the shoulders down, made Meola an attraction to Division 1 colleges. The Watchung Hills High junior found a home at one of the schools when he verbally committed to Stetson University on Aug. 4.
“The first contact I had with Stetson was last year at WWBA tournaments in Georgia and Florida,” said Meola. “They knew me because my cousin played there and were watching me as I developed.” Lorenzo’s second cousin, Jon Meola, was an outstanding third baseman for Stetson before graduating last spring. Jon Meola, a Toms River North grad, is the son of Kearny, N.J. native Tony Meola, the legendary U.S. National Soccer Team goalie.
“My dad and Tony are first cousins,” said Lorenzo.
Unimpeachable bloodlines aside, Lorenzo Meola is making a name for himself at his age level and has even been a bit ahead of his time in regard to development. Meola muscled his way into the Watchung Hills High School starting lineup as a freshman in 2019.
“I was on the freshman team during scrimmages then moved up to jayvee,” said Meola. “Then I moved to the varsity and started at second base.” Meola was later moved to shortstop and played some third base that freshman season. While gaining invaluable experience, he showed his high school coach just how capable a player he’d quickly become.
“As a freshman, I saw Lorenzo was definitely one of the most coachable kids I’ve ever met,” said Watchung Hills coach Joe Tremarco. “He’s always the first one there and the last to leave. He truly loves this game and wants to do everything in his power to perfect his craft. He’s a silent leader people follow, not because he tells them to, but because, deep down, they know he is doing things the right way.”
Meola was in line to start at shortstop for Watchung Hills last spring before the COVID-19 pandemic coldly swept the 2020 high school season away.
“At first, I was concerned about how it all was going to play out,” says Meola. “I just put the work in during the spring and got better.” When recreation sports were opened back up the first week of July, Meola, like every other baseball recruit in the state, returned to the field with the dual hopes of improving and, perhaps, finding a college he could call home.
Because Division 1 coaches were prohibited by the NCAA from observing potential recruits in person this summer, recruiting coordinators like DiTrolio and players like Meola had to get creative.
“Videos became really important,” said Meola.
Meola had a terrific summer with the Super 16U squad and things began to fall in place. “Lorenzo is not a rah, rah type of player but when the season was over, he led our team in at bats, hits, doubles and RBI,” said DiTrolio. Not bad considering he was playing on a team with 10 Division 1 commitments. “The consistency he brings to the ballpark each day resembles more of a major league vet, not a 16 year-old high school player.”
Meola batted .321 during a summer playing against the stiffest competition. “It was fun,” he said. “There was a lot of winning. It was a great experience. Not only were we good, but we all got along, had fun and played as a team. That’s how you win.”
Meola went to Prep Baseball Report’s Futures Games in Pennsylvania, which was held on Aug. 1-3, despite the fact his recruitment by Stetson had reached the boiling point. “I knew I’d be committing to Stetson, but I went for the experience,” says Meola.
Meola had sent videos to Stetson head coach Steve Trimper earlier in the summer. “He reached out after that and we started talking,” said Meola. “I talked to assistant coach (Joe) Mercadante, too.”
Meola knew he had found that baseball home he’d been longing for.
“On the way home from Pennsylvania I committed,” he said. “I called Ditro’ and he told me a couple other schools were interested, too. But I knew Stetson was a good place for me.”
Meola not only follows a family legacy at Stetson, he’ll join two longtime Diamond Jacks on the Hatters roster. Redshirt freshman Brandon Hylton is scheduled to hit in the middle of the Stetson lineup this spring and his younger brother, Jayden, committed this summer and, like Meola, will be a freshman in September of 2022 at the Deland, Florida school.
“I know Jayden my whole life,” said Meola. “We grew up together, went to middle school together before Jayden left Watchung for Ridge at the start of his freshman year of high school.” Jayden Hylton and Meola were two feared parts of what was a truly fearsome Diamond Jacks Super 16U lineup this past summer.
“Stetson is a really good fit for Jayden,” says Meola, “knowing his brother is there. It’s pretty cool we get to play together there. It’s a good comfort zone. The Stetson coaches are phenomenal. They know what they are doing and they care about their players.”
Meola joined the Diamond Jacks in the fall of 2018, ratcheting up his development and his intensity.
“When I first got to Diamond Nation, Walt (Cleary) really started things for me,” said Meola. “He was a big help. I learned a lot that fall. Coaches at Diamond Nation do the right thing. They want you to develop.
And Travis (Anderson) was big for me. He pushed me and motivated me. He was a great coach to have around. He always wants you to get after it. Ditro helped a lot, too, especially with recruiting. And Kevin Cust is just a great hitting guy. He worked with me in the winter. I made great improvements with him.”
Meola closed out his season this fall batting .353 for the Diamond Jacks Super 17U team. “We played a lot of games,” he said, “kept with it and got it done.”
Next up for Meola is a winter training regimen that includes four-to-five days a week in the weight room and “hitting as much as I can.”
The Spring of 2021 has become an important season to so many high school players in New Jersey after the lost 2020 season left such a big hole in their hearts and daily routines.
“Everyone is very anxious to play this spring,” said Meola. “It’ll be fun. We’ll see how it plays out.”
Tremarco always puts a highly competitive Watchung Hills unit on the field in the brutally unforgiving Skyland Conference. He’ll have a quiet and efficient leader in the middle of his infield.
“In a time when some young adults don’t feel they have to work hard and things should be simply given to them, Lorenzo is a breath of fresh air,” says Tremarco. “He’s the guy who deserves all the good things he gets, because he busts his hump achieving them. Stetson got a great one and I can’t wait to see him continue to grow and develop. He’s a special one. It’s going to be a fun ride.”
Final thoughts: One month before Meola committed to Stetson, Prep Baseball Report, which does such a great job in evaluating talent in New Jersey and beyond, filed the following report on the 5-11, 150-pound middle infielder.
“The athletic recruit showcased his speed with a sub-seven 60 time of 6.95. Started in a balanced athletic stance with a smooth controlled load, then used a controlled stride to start his swing. Has a short simple swing plane, explosive bat speed and level finish. Was able to create a lot of loud contact and found multiple barrels. Gap-to-gap approach. Meola clocked an exit velocity of 87 mph. Advanced in the infield, his best throw registered 79 mph. Showed next level twitchy hands, a quick clean exchange and athletic rhythmic feet. Used a high three-quarter slot with a loose arm action while showing consistent accuracy to the bag.”
New York Mets righthander Jacob deGrom was drafted in the ninth round of the 2010 MLB Draft out of Stetson University.