As far as timely hits go, the triple Mike Horn laced into the left-center field gap during an early summer tournament with his Diamond Jacks 17U Gold team proved to be a knock he could set his watch to.
“The summer is when everything kind of exploded for me,” said Horn, who committed to Washington College of Maryland in early September. A Washington assistant coach, Tom Fiala, was at Diamond Nation that early summer day following assorted ball players in the tournament.
“It was an 8 a.m. game and I was not thinking there were a lot of scouts there,” said Horn. “I made a few plays in the outfield. Then I got an email the next day from the Washington College head coach (Cory Beddick).”
Horn had battled the previous spring just to get a little playing time on the North Hunterdon High School varsity squad and had tried out three times before finally making the Diamond Jacks program in the fall of 2018. If Horn had shown anything in the sport of baseball it was his persistence.
“I’m in love with the game,” said Horn. “And Diamond Nation is the place I wanted to play. These coaches took me in from the start and showed me they believed in me.” Horn’s improvement showed last summer after a fall season, winter workouts and a spring with the Diamond Jacks.
Then he had that summer success.
“I stayed in touch with Washington College the rest of the summer and, in early September, they told me they were interested in me coming there,” said Horn. “I had visited the school in July, got a tour and fell in love with it. The facilities blew my mind. They have a Bermuda grass field.”
Horn met some of Washington’s players on the tour, including former Diamond Jack Super 17 player John Grill, a freshman lefthander who played his high school ball at Gov. Livingston in Berkeley Heights. Washington College, in fact, has 14 players from New Jersey on its 2020 roster. “John and the other players gave me the lowdown on the college, what daily life is like there and helped me put the pieces together.”
Horn appears to be putting the pieces together toward a complete game of baseball.
“Mike can play all three outfield positions,” says Chris Brown, Horn’s Diamond Jacks Gold 17U coach last summer. “He’s a versatile outfielder with a good arm and he’s going to grind out at bats for you. The kid competes and works his butt off.”
Horn sees himself as a gap-to-gap hitter that is tough on pitchers. “I can count my strikeouts from the summer and fall on two hands,” he says. “Driving the ball hard in the gaps is where I aim to be as a hitter. Being consistent is important. As a baserunner, I’m always looking for the extra base.”
“Mike’s is going to find a way on base any way he can,” says Brown.
Washington College’s coaching staff clearly saw that grinder in Horn and has reason to believe he is a talent on the rise.
“That was a huge thing for me,” said Horn. “The Washington College coaches are phenomenal and believe in me. And I believe in coaches who believe in me and that’s where I want to play the next four years.”
Horn joined the Diamond Jacks program at the 16U level and was coached initially by Shane Solimani. “That first fall was great,” said Horn. “Coach Shane helped me a lot. He told me to keep grinding and my dream of playing in college would come true. I just loved being around all of our great coaches and the facility is so amazing. It all helped to develop me physically and mentally as a player. Coming to Diamond Nation brought me to a whole new level.”
Horn’s development last spring continued at North Hunterdon as the now 5-11, 176-pounder split time between the junior varsity and varsity clubs. “Mike is an extremely intelligent and hard-working student and player,” said North Hunterdon coach Mike Kane. “He’ll be battling for a starting spot in the outfield this year.”
Horn has spent a lot of time, too, under the tutelage of respected North Hunterdon junior varsity coach Derek Yocum.
”Coach Yocum has been there for me since day one,” said Horn. “He’s like a second father to me. He’s really believed in me like my Diamond Jack coaches Travis (Anderson) and Kevin Cust. Coach Yocum always says when you are having a tough time you just need to work hard on the field and in the weight room and you can battle back.”
Yocum also taught Horn in his AP World History class at North Hunterdon.
“One of the aspects that sets Mike apart from other student-athletes is he works very hard when no one is watching,” says Yocum. “The fact that he puts forth so much effort assures others that he will be successful in whatever he does in life. He is a very coachable player with a high baseball IQ.”
Horn’s first varsity hit last year came in a big spot for him and his North Hunterdon teammates. He came to the plate with the bases loaded against Lenape Valley in a Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament game. “I hit a double and drove in two runs. I remember coach Kane congratulating me when I got to third base later in the inning.”
Horn continued to develop his game this fall with the Diamond Jacks under the guidance of 17U Gold coach Brian Del Rosso. “I played mostly center field in the summer and some corner outfield in the fall. I can play anywhere in the outfield,” said Horn. “I like center field because of the ground you get to cover. You get a lot of action in left field in high school and right field you get to make big throws.
“I’ve worked on my route running as well. One wrong step can cost your team a game.”
The academic end of the college equation was no small part of the decision-making process for Horn. He truly wanted a school that would challenge him and prepare him for life ahead.
“I was looking at schools that required a 3.5 GPA or higher,” he said. “I’m at about a 3.8 right now. Washington fell right in there and checked all the boxes. Horn anticipates pursuing a business degree. “I’m thinking about going into stock brokering.”
Division 3 Washington College, which sits next to Chesapeake Bay on the DelMarVa Peninsula, boasted a 28-12 record in 2019. “I wanted to play in a competitive program and on a team that expects to win,” said Horn. Washington College competes in the Centennial Conference.
“My message is, work hard. If you have a dream go chase it,” says Horn. “Keep working hard every day. It’s all about perseverance.”