This will be a special one for the seniors, but try finding a high school baseball or softball player in any class not jacked up for the first season uncompromised by the COVID-19 pandemic since 2019.
The 2020 high school season was a complete loss as the pandemic timed its spread for mid-March that year. The 2021 campaign started a week late as teams and schools’ athletic departments walked a tightrope of anxiety about potential infections.
It wasn’t uncommon to witness the bizarre scene of coaches masked up in dugouts and in the coaching boxes along the baselines. But baseball and softball persevered and made it work in 2021, culminating in a full NJSIAA state tournament slate.
Ask Holy Spirit, St. Joseph (Mont.), Middletown South, Ocean City, Voorhees and Middlesex how the 2021 season went. We doubt any of those teams will remember COVID restrictions or the season being delayed by a week. All they have nestled in their warm memories is a Group championship played on a hot June day in Hamilton, N.J. “We’re No. 1.”
No, COVID may not be completely behind us, but it is in the death throes of vaccinations and superior immune systems. Mandatory masking was discontinued on Monday in schools throughout the state and much of the nation. Baseball and softball, coincidentally, began kicking up dust – or little rubber pellets – one day later, today, Tuesday, March 8, as pitchers and catchers took to the field for the start of preseason tryouts and preparations. The rest of the high school squad takes the field on Friday for the first full team workouts/tryouts. One week later, teams may begin their scrimmage slates. Hallelujah!
While Major League Baseball continues to shoot itself in the foot with a nonsensical lockout and labor war, high schools and colleges go about business as usual. If MLB continues its labor strife over the next few weeks or more, figure the college and high school games to gain a bigger foothold on the baseball psyche of the public. In fact, we hope you’ve taken a peek at our friends at Rutgers, who have opened up at 10-1.
College teams already have three weeks of games under their belt and our high schools – we are blessed with so many great programs in New Jersey – will begin play officially on our annual opening day, April 1.
Diamond Nation.com will bring you games every week, including many of the county tournaments as we build up to the state tournament, which begins on June 1. The past three seasons, Diamond Nation is the only organization in the state to have covered every single state final game. Why change now?
A host of fantastic in-season events will also keep the Garden State’s baseball community tuned in, including the 92-team Thank You Classic on the weekend of April 2-May 1 and the Tip Your Cap High School Classic on May 25-26 at LeMatty Field in Union.
If you’d like to know just how good the deep field of high school teams in New Jersey looks at this point, PG-Midlantic did us the service of ranking the Top 25 teams in the region consisting of New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
New Jersey placed 13 teams in that prestigious Top 25. They are; 1-Don Bosco Prep. 2-The Hun School. 5-Hunterdon Central. 6-Bergen Catholic. 11-St. Augustine Prep. 14-Seton Hall Prep. 15-Bishop Eustace Prep. 17-St. Joseph (Met.). 20-Ranney Prep. 21-Cranford. 22-Gloucester Catholic. 23-St. Joseph (Mont.) and 25-Cherokee.
And if that doesn’t fire you up, get yourself to the gym. Let’s play some ball!