Greg Butler, with wife, Wendy, receives the Joe Hartmann Baseball Man of the Year award.
The Senior All-Star Game has, for 44 years, provided the perfect swan song to the high school careers of New Jersey’s Top 100 seniors.
The New Jersey Scholastic Baseball Coaches Association sets the perfect environment at Diamond Nation to honor the top players as they compete for one last time on a scholastic diamond. It also honors its own and those who’ve made significant contributions to the game.
In the end, it’s a memorable evening of excellent baseball, camaraderie and good will in which the New Jersey baseball community shines brightly.
“It’s a cool night,” said Connor Dreyer, a Delbarton grad bound for Boston College. “There’s a lot of players here I’ve played against and some I’ve played with, like Chris Maldonado. It was fun to get to know some guys I’ve seen play over the years.”
The four 25-man teams pair up for two competitive games played on adjacent diamonds at New Jersey’s premier travel baseball facility. Dreyer, a talented shortstop, did what his teammates would expect, turning a single into a double in his first at bat and even reaching base after missing a strike three in the dirt.
Dreyer’s next stop is the Atlantic Collegiate Baseball League, where he’ll play for the Jersey Pilots in preparation for his freshman season at Boston College.
“A friend referred me,” said Dreyer, who’ll play on the same team as fellow Diamond Jack Ben Romano, a Hun School grad and Tulane commit.
Dreyer and Maldonado, a Seton Hall Prep grad who just recently decommitted from Clemson University, played for the Northwest squad, which edged the Northeast team, 6-4. Clemson fired seventh-year coach Monte Lee after the Tigers failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament for a second straight season, suddenly altering Maldonado’s college plans at this late stage.
“I have a few good opportunities and expect to make a decision pretty quickly,” said Maldonado, an outstanding shortstop and hitter, who doubled to the wall in right-center field in his first at bat against Pope John’s Frank Ciccone.
“This is a nice light baseball night that reminds you that the game of baseball is about having fun,” said Maldonado. “I’m just up there taking hacks and not really worrying about the results. I was sitting fastball on a 1-2 pitch. It was down in the zone and I got under it and drove it the other way.”
We are sure there are several high level college programs that are hoping Maldonado chooses to do his driving of baseball with them.
Maldonado’s Seton Hall Prep teammate John Cerwinski lit up the radar gun at 91 but it seemed his breaking stuff was even more impressive, which has to be exciting for the coaches at John’s next destination, the University of Penn.
The Northeast did jump out to a quick 1-0 lead when Passaic Tech’s Steven Peralta rocked a game-opening home run, an attention-getter for both fields.
Watchung Hills’ shortstop, Stetson-Bound Lorenzo Meola, snared a grounder at third base and chased down a runner, who broke from third on the bouncer. Meola, showcasing his speed, never threw the ball to the plate as he simply ran the runner down for the out. It was less a rundown than a run over.
“I thought I was going to throw the ball, but got close enough to tag him,” said Meola, who dove and tagged the runner on a leg before he touched the plate.
Ridge, a Top 10 team for much of the season, had two players, Brian Leitz and Mike Olivo play for the Central squad. Leitz, who had been plunked by pitches 11 times this season, remained a baseball magnet and was hit by a pitch in his second at bat. The Central team nipped the South squad, 4-1.
Leitz and Olivo batted 1-2 in the Central batting order. Olivo batted .433 and Leitz hit .411 for the potent Red Devils. The lefty-hitting Olivo lined out in his first at bat Tuesday night, then stroked a single the opposite way in his second trip to the plate.
“I remember seeing this game played when I was with the Diamond Jacks,” said Olivo, who played for Diamond Nation teams when he was 14 and 15 years old. “These games show all the talent New Jersey has to offer.” Olivo will not play baseball in college. The Ridge quarterback and defensive back has opted to play football for Trinity College in Connecticut.
“I expect to focus on cornerback and safety in college,” he said.
One of Olivo’s Diamond Jack coaches, Travis Anderson, stopped by to say hello to Olivo mid-interview. “We called Mike, CEO,” said Anderson. “Mike is going to be successful at whatever he chooses to do.”
Somerville’s Matty Wright, who is bound for Stony Brook, and teammate Tyler Stone had some hearty swings. Wright delivered a two-run single to give the Central a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the seventh, then singled in a run in the ninth to extend the lead to 4-1. Stone smashed a line drive in his first at bat, but it was right at the right fielder.
Greg Butler was named the Joe Hartmann Baseball Man of the Year by his peers. Butler coached at Bergenfield, Demarest and, most memorably, at Don Bosco Prep, where his team was No. 1 in the nation in 2008 with a 33-0 record. Butler won a total of 361 games in 18 seasons. His teams won four Bergen County Tournament titles, three North Jersey, Non-Public crowns, two sectional championships and two Non-Public A state titles.
Butler was a tri-captain on Seton Hall University’s 41-13 team in 1982 that earned the No. 1 seed in the Northeast Region.
Six coaches were inducted into the NJSBCA Russ Spicer Hall of Fame; Bill Giglio, Ridge, Roy Hallenback, Millville, Robert Jack, Marlboro/Colts Neck, Kevin Murray, Parsippany Hills/Morris Catholic, Scott Runkel, St. Thomas Aquinas (Bishop Ahr), and Jim Sickinger, Kearny.
Mike Stang Service Awards were presented to longtime Fairleigh Dickinson coach Dennis Sasso, Mike Edwards, Millville/Mainland, reporter Ed ‘Faa’ Ford, Jersey City, umpire Joe Oranchak and State Senator Paul Sarlo.
Frank Malta, the NJSBCA president, and his team put on a great show. The games were terrific and well-paced, both nine-inning games finishing at almost the same time in a brisk two hours and 30 minutes or so. Malta is the former longtime Jackson Memorial coach and current East Brunswick athletic director.