For Christian Pareja it was all about the connection.
The 5-11, 180-pound righthander out of Passaic Tech in Wayne has always been a conduit of good baseball feelings on the field. Dating back to his first days as a 12 year-old Diamond Jack that was evident. It made sense that he’d be drawn to a college that gave him that same feeling.
When he spoke to Coppin State’s pitching coach Sean Repay, he sensed he had found a familiar comfort zone.
“I was looking for schools in the northeast that offered sports management as a major,” said Pareja, one of a trio of highly talented pitchers that will take the mound for Passaic Tech this spring. “I reached out to Coppin State in October, then sent my transcripts, videos and gave them details on my pitching, my velocity and all that.”
A subsequent return email set up a phone call with Repay, a recent coaching import from Montana. Repay had just coached Dawson Community College in Glendive, Montana to a remarkable turnaround season in 2021.
“We had a great call,” said Pareja. “It was one of the longer conversations I’ve had with a coach. It was just a conversation about the program, his pitching philosophy, drills he likes, a lot of little things. He’s very trustworthy. That was important to me and my family.”
Pareja and his parents made a trip shortly after to visit Coppin State, a Division 1 program not far from downtown Baltimore. He would meet the Eagles head coach, Sherman Reed, who just began his 12th season at the school.
“They showed me around the facilities, the locker room, the indoor gym with batting cages,” said Pareja. “I met coach Sherman and that was great. They took me into the city and we strolled around and got a feel for Baltimore.”
That good “feel” for Coppin State and Baltimore was made official when Pareja gave his verbal commitment to Reed and Repay shortly after Thanksgiving. Then he signed on the dotted line a few weeks ago.
Pareja says his performance at Diamond Nation’s Garden State Games in June created a recruiting breakthrough for him.
“That was really big for me,” he says. “I was 84-86 before that and hit 87-88 in that (showcase) game. I drew a lot of eyes on me at that point. It was great to start the summer like that.”
Pareja did look at a variety of schools, including Division 1 Wagner and Hartford and Division 3 Kean and Ramapo.
“During the recruiting process I tried not to pay attention to the division of the school,” said Pareja. “I think, because of the pandemic, a lot of the Division 3 schools can compete with some Division 1s.”
Coppin State was recently picked to finish third this season in a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference preseason poll coming off a 10-29 season in 2021. “The program is on the way up,” said Pareja. Reed, who grew up in Baltimore, has done a nice job with the program since arriving as an assistant in 2008 and taking over as the head coach in 2010. He was named the MEAC Coach of the Year in 2018. His teams went 33-13 in conference play in the two full seasons prior to the pandemic.
The academic end has been very important to Pareja, a student in Passaic Tech’s Academy of Finance program. “I want to go into the finance area or marketing in sports management,” he said.
Pareja is getting a bit of a test of “the market” per se, working 20 hours a week at Kohl’s department store in his hometown of Clifton for some pocket change and college dough. “My parents want me in the workforce,” said Pareja.”
When he’s not in school or at his part-time job, Pareja can be found doing baseball-centric activities, most of which centers around his right arm. It creates quite a busy schedule for the high school senior.
“I throw four times a week at Total Arm Care in Wharton,” he said. “I run twice a week, workout with a trainer. Like everyone else, I lift three times a week. I’m always doing something, whether it’s work with bands, explosive work, ladders or other drills.”
That work is all designed for a senior season loaded with promise for both Pareja and a Passaic Tech program that is always in the mix, whether it’s for the Passaic County Tournament championship or in NJSIAA sectional play.
The Bulldogs (16-7) reached the PCT final last spring, falling to Wayne Hills, 3-0. Pareja and his teammates then fell to eventual Group 4 finalist Montclair, 6-5, in the Section 1 semifinals.
“We were flat in the county final then we battled back in the states before losing a close one to Montclair,” said Pareja.”
Pareja had a strong 2021 on the mound and saw some time at the plate and at third base, working his way into a dual role. “Christian works so hard and is so competitive,” says Passaic Tech’s ninth-year coach Rob Nutile. “He’s like an old time player. He missed the first two weeks of the season (due to a minor back issue), so he took a little while to catch up. But we eventually put him at third base and he did a good job for us there and at the plate.”
But Pareja’s prime baseball crop is being cultivated on the mound where he boasts a live fastball, a well-developed changeup and a nasty curveball in his attempts to starve batters of base hits.
“My fastball is in the mid-to-high 80s,” says Pareja. “I hit 89 in Alabama over the summer (with the Diamond Jacks Super 17U squad). I use my four-seam to get ahead of hitters. I have a nice two-seam to hit the inside corner on righty hitters.” And he has what he calls a “really good” changeup that he has thrown as often as a quarter of his pitches in games.
“I’ve had the changeup since I was 11 or 12. It plays well off my two- and four-seam. My curveball is more like a slurve. I’ve been working on a knuckle-curve this winter, too, and it’s really coming along.” That repertoire makes him a handful on Passaic Tech’s deep pitching staff.
“Christian would be the No. 1 pitcher on most high school teams,” says Nutile, a coach at Passaic Tech since 2011 and the head coach since 2014. “He’s a top-notch pitcher with an above average fastball and his breaking ball is nasty, too.”
Passaic Tech boasts an enviable collection of arms any scholastic coach would be giddy about. Nazier Mule, a 6-3, 205 righthander committed to Miami, is his ace and more accurately the ace of all Garden State pitchers. Mule’s fastball has been clocked at 100 and he is also an outstanding middle infielder and hitter. Miami could easily lose Mule to the MLB Draft.
Joining Pareja in Passaic Tech’s really-good-high-school-pitcher class – not quite otherworldly like Mule – is uncommitted Jonny Gilligan (5-11, 170), another righthander who has been clocked at 87.
“We have three good pitchers,” says Nutile. “Gilligan is a good one, too. We are very fortunate.” Those three arms make Passaic Tech a major threat in any game or tournament. “On the pitching side, we are fully stacked,” says Pareja. “We lost some good hitters from last year but we had a strong junior class.”
Pareja will be well prepared for a big senior season after his summer with a loaded Diamond Jacks Super 17U team and fall with Super 18U unit.
“We did really well last summer,” said Pareja. “Alabama was great. It was great playing with high caliber guys like Maldonado, Donovan, McCoy and Dreyer the past two years.” Chris Maldonado (Seton Hall Prep) is bound for Clemson, Donovan Zsak (St. Joseph Met.) is committed to Virginia, Kyle McCoy (Hunterdon Central), another MLB Draft prospect, is bound for Maryland, and Connor Dreyer (Delbarton) is headed to Boston College.
Playing with top level ball players is beneficial and Pareja has clearly done his part to bring a high level of energy to his and his team’s game.
“I think I have a bulldog mentality on the mound,” says Pareja. “No matter the situation or what position I find myself in, I never get down. I battle. I think I have the ability to stay aggressive and come up big.”
His coaches will attest to that, along with their regard for Pareja’s intangibles that make a coach’s life easier and his teammates’ experience better.
“Christian is a great human being and an excellent player,” says Nutile. “He’s a true teammate who is respected by his teammates and is unselfish. He’s the first guy out there to take the tarp off the mound at the start of practice. He’s always smiling. His teammates love him. He’ll be one of our captains. We’ve known the type of kid he is since he came here freshman year. He’s the kind of kid other kids gravitate to.”
It’s not hard to see why.