Hard work has been known to deliver positive results but sometimes those results take a shape different than expected.
A well-rounded ball player and an asset to his team, Haydn Strycharz was always most concerned with the overall results, not where his own contributions originated.
He could hit. He could run. He could throw. He could also pitch pretty well when called upon. But it took until the summer of Strycharz’s 17th year to be convince it was indeed his arm that was going to take him to higher ground.
“I really didn’t start pitching until this year,” said Strycharz. “I had a really good outing my first game of the summer and thought, ‘maybe I should be doing this.'”
But Strycharz had indeed been “pitching” right along during his seven years in the Diamond Jack program but hadn’t truly become a connoisseur of the art. While the foundation was there, as was the experience, something hadn’t locked into place on the mound. That is until the summer of 2020.
“I think my focus just changed toward pitching this summer,” he said. “I had a lot of success.”
Strycharz’s refocused and renewed energy on the mound was noticed quickly by college recruiters who saw the 6-0, 170-pounder emerge with a strong four-pitch arsenal that included four-seam and two-seam fastballs, a curveball and changeup.
“I just started working really hard on pitching this summer,” he said. “Everything just clicked. I had a complete game shutout and almost had a no-hitter.” Strycharz exhibited an ability to spot his fastball and confidently work his other pitches in to keep hitters guessing.
“My curveball really is more of a slider. I feel I can throw it in any count,” says Strycharz. “And I think my best pitch is my changeup. When it’s on I wouldn’t want to have to try to hit it. It drops off the table.”
Despite his reservations about his development on the mound prior to last summer, Strycharz did show a natural affinity to the position.
“Haydn has always had the ability on the mound,” says Travis Anderson, Diamond Nation’s catching coordinator. “He attacks the zone and nothing phases him. He has a good head on his shoulders when it comes to pitching.”
Strycharz’s story is one of resilience, beginning at a young age. He tried out for the Diamond Jacks program at the age of 11 but was not selected for a team. He returned for tryouts a year later and latched on with the Diamond Jacks Gold 12U program to begin a seven-year run at the Flemington, N.J. facility.
“Haydn is the type of player coaches in any sport at any level want in their program,” said Brian DelRosso, Strycharz’s coach last summer with the Diamond Jacks Gold 18U team. “Haydn is a sponge. He has absorbed every ounce of instruction from our Diamond Nation coaching staff. He’s put in the work since his first day in the program to become an effective left-handed arm for any team he plays for.”
Strycharz’s success on the mound this summer drew the attention of such Division 3 schools as SUNY Maritime, Rhodes College (Tenn.) and Western New England and Division 2 Adelphi. Haydn, an excellent student, particularly strong in math and science, was looking for a school that could provide the proper balance of academics and baseball. He soon gravitated toward Maritime, an outstanding Bronx, N.Y.-based school in the SUNY system.
“Coach (Charlie) Barbieri saw me pitch in late July at a tournament in Staten Island,” said Strycharz. “I never heard of the school before he emailed me.”
A tour and some research on the school’s academic programs quickly turned Strycharz’s head.
“I talked to my parents about it and felt Maritime gave me the best options, academically and in baseball. It’s a big shipping school and I want to study engineering,” said Strycharz. “We felt it would be a good return on our investment. I called coach Barbieri in October and committed.”
Maritime has less than 1,800 students and its cozy campus sits along the Hudson River.
“The school is really small, which is what I wanted,” said Strycharz. “I wanted to be a big fish in a small pond. They are redoing their baseball field, putting new turf down. There is a view of the New York City skyline from center field.”
While Maritime’s roster is predominantly New York and, specifically, Long Island natives, Strycharz won’t be the Privateers’ lone New Jersey player thanks to current freshman pitcher Gabe Zwerin of Shore Regional (Long Branch) and junior catcher A.J. Corso from West Essex in North Caldwell.
Strycharz has always made the proper investment into his academics and baseball and the results show.
“Haydn’s development improved every year in our program,” says DelRosso, himself a lefty pitcher who played professionally in Independent ball. “His mechanics, mental approach, pitch ability, game plan and effectiveness have made significant jumps each year. And I attribute that to his relentless commitment to a strong work ethic, attention to detail and trust in his mentors.”
Strycharz, who has worked extensively of late on arm maintenance with DelRosso, has also enjoyed his interaction with his coaches at Diamond Nation.
“I love working with DelRo,” says Strycharz. “He’s a players coach. You can tell him anything. When he works with you he’s serious but funny when you need a joke. He’ll also give you a kick in the butt when you need it. I’ve learned a lot from him.”
DelRosso has also helped Strycharz in grasping the critical components of pitching mechanics and the mental approach to the game.
“I started to expect what was coming in his pitch-calling when I was on the mound this summer. And when I was on the bench, he’d make me guess what pitch the opposing pitcher would throw next.”
The Last Dance World Series in July gave Strycharz an opportunity to play for the last time with last year’s seniors and contribute on the high school diamond as a junior for coach Mike Kane’s Lions. While the Lions were knocked out of the tournament during pool play, they did leave it with a good feeling after eliminating rival Hunterdon Central with a wild 15-13 victory. Strycharz’s resiliency on the mound paid dividends that day for North Hunterdon.
”I had a bad outing against Voorhees the game before, which we lost,” said Strycharz. “I was too amped up. I knew I had to bounce back against Central.” Strycharz pitched three strong inning in relief to help fend off Hunterdon Central’s comeback bid. “Matt Wagner closed it out for us and I caught the last out in left field. I put that ball right in my back pocket and kept it.”
A couple moments in Strycharz’s past two seasons of ball should give opponents concern about his competitive edge.
When Kane brought Strycharz up to the North Hunterdon varsity from the JV squad his sophomore season, the lefty-hitting outfielder launched a grand slam and a two-run double in his first two varsity at bats in a victory over Lenape Valley.
“I told him to take a picture of the field because he’d never forget that day,” said North Hunterdon coach Mike Kane.
Against Hunterdon Central in the Last Dance, Strycharz was on the mound and the subject of some intense heckling by the Red Devils bench.
“Hunterdon Central was all over me,” said Strycharz. “I couldn’t help but laugh. I cracked a smile. They saw that and were laughing.” The last thing an opponent wants to see is his rival smiling in the face of adversity. “You have to keep a level head. Heckling just motivates me. You strike out a guy and that shuts them up.”
Kane appreciates Strycharz’s ability to keep centered in the heat of competition.
“Haydn is a very mature young man,” says Kane. “He plays with heart and grit and is one of the most competitive players I’ve ever coached. He’s the ultimate team player and was selected as one of our captains this year.”
His commitment to Maritime secured in October, Strycharz’s focus turned to his winter regiment of arm health and building his body for the spring and a suddenly quickly approaching college career.
“I’m lifting five days a week at HealthQuest (Flemington) and working with DelRo on my arm maintenance.”
Strycharz’s laser focus now is on North Hunterdon’s 2021 baseball season, a season that has taken on much more meaning statewide due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lost 2020 campaign.
“I cannot wait,” said Strycharz. “Tryouts begin March 26 and coach Kane says we have at least 19 games scheduled, so I’m so excited. You find out how much something means to you when it’s taken away.”
Extra Innings: Haydn Strycharz is an introspective young man and seems to have an ability to get the most out of his coaches’ instruction. Along those lines, Strycharz points out Diamond Jacks coaches Brian DelRosso, Travis Anderson and Tony Gisell for their steadying hand. And his earlier baseball memories harken back to his North Hunterdon Youth Baseball days and the positive reinforcement provided by coaches Jeff Stinner, Joe Quartuccio and Tom Luciano.
“Haydn knows he has to put in hard work to get better,” says Anderson. “He’s a young man of his word. I know he will have an impact on this world whatever he chooses to do.”
Anderson has had some impact, as well, on Strycharz.
“Coach Travis was great when we traveled to Florida with the Super 15U and we finished in third place,” says Strycharz. “He was a great motivator for me. He could read when I was down and he’d pick me up.”
Says DelRosso, “If you had a team full of Haydn Strycharzs, you can guarantee that team that would compete until the final out.”