Pitchers and catchers have reported and the days are numbered for the snow you see at the Diamond Nation complex in Flemington, N.J.
From the Flemington, N.J. home of Diamond Nation and our already snow-covered turf fields, more snow is falling. Perhaps a lot more snow.
But don’t be discouraged my friends. Pitchers and catchers reported yesterday in major league spring training locales in Florida and Arizona. No, this isn’t Florida or Arizona but the sense that spring is just on the horizon is real.
Indeed, this spring brings with it the most highly anticipated baseball season for high school and college athletes perhaps ever. College teams are underway with their preparation for the 2021 season, a year removed from a 2020 season stopped cold by the corona virus pandemic.
High school teams in New Jersey have a later start – March 26 is the first day of practice for pitchers and catchers – but a full season is anticipated (April 19-June 20), particularly after the sport experienced a full summer and fall of games without noticeable effects from the pandemic.
We can truly begin the countdown to the start of high school and youth games in the northeast after we hear the words, “pitchers and catchers report.” Indeed, we are just three weeks from the first tournament of the spring at Diamond Nation, where baseball and softball never sleep.
In fact, our winter training programs continued unabated yesterday at our indoor facilities, though everything is shut down today (Thursday) as we deal with cleanup from this latest blow from Mother Nature. But, for example, it was great to see pitchers and catcher workouts on Wednesday by Somerville High School and the Hunterdon Central pitchers and outfielders going strong.
While Diamond Nation remained a beehive of activity throughout the winter, the anticipation for spring hung heavy in the air. With that in mind, let’s discuss a few things that need addressing.
Baseball America published its regional rankings of high school teams this week and three proud New Jersey programs were slotted into the Mid-Atlantic Top 10. Cranford, which stormed to the Last Dance Tournament championship last summer, has been tabbed No. 3 in the region behind No. 1 Madison of Vienna, Va. and No. 2 Malvern Prep (Pa.). Cranford returns a heck of a nucleus and boasts coach Dennis McCaffery at the helm.
Holy Spirit in Absecon in Atlantic County is right behind Cranford at No. 4 and is steered by Livingston High and Rutgers grad Steve Normane, who doubles as the schools athletic director. Perennial North Jersey power Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey) is ranked No. 6 by Baseball America.
The NCAA remains one of the more out of touch organizations in the nation. Most people outside of college and high school baseball may not be aware that Division 1 baseball and softball coaches have not been allowed to recruit players in-person since the outbreak of the pandemic.
There are already build in time frames in the calendar in which Division 1 coaches cannot have in-person contact with potential recruits. These time frames are called dead periods. Well, the NCAA has instituted a recruiting dead period from last March through the present. Yesterday, the NCAA extended its dead period through May 31.
This not only hampers college coaches’ ability to recruit players, it harms players and can cause some quality athletes to be missed in the recruiting process. This is a stunning decision considering the positives we saw last summer and this fall in tournament play. We remind the NCAA that baseball and softball are outdoors. With vaccine distribution racing forward and decreasing caseloads around the country, we remain confused by the NCAA’s position.
College coaches have had to rely on videos supplied by players since the outset of the pandemic to aid their recruiting efforts. The relationship built over the years between college coaches, high school coaches and travel programs have also become critical. Those relationships certainly proved beneficial to Diamond Jacks players last summer and fall, but this is certainly not the optimum situation and once seemingly unnecessary at this point.
Rick Porcello, who starred in high school at Seton Hall Prep and played at Jack Cust Baseball Academy for the N.J. Super 17 program, is still a free agent. Porcello is sure to get signed considering the resume of the 2016 Cy Young Award winner and his clutch 2018 postseason that was capped by the Red Sox’s world championship. Porcello is 150-125 in his career with an ERA of 4.40. These are not eye-popping numbers but the numbers that should get a suitor’s attention center around his reliability.
Porcello has averaged close to 30 starts and 200 innings pitched per-season over his 12-year career. In his last full season – last year’s pandemic shortened season discounted – Porcello was 14-12 for the Red Sox. He’s won at least 14 games six times. One of the biggest concerns teams harbor this season centers on pitchers’ ability to accumulate innings after the shortened 2020 campaign. Porcello, 32, seems the ideal pitcher for 2021.
The High School Coaches All-Time Victories List was published here a week ago and has gotten a pretty strong reaction. Most importantly, it has helped to unearth some coaches we’ve missed. We continue to update the list with your help. Send an email firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a coach we missed.