When you talk baseball with Connor Dreyer, you get the feeling the Delbarton High School junior is sitting on the edge of his seat.
If you have seen Dreyer on a baseball field, you witness that same urgency cranked up several notches to the “LET’S GO” level.
“Connor is very heady, very aware,” says Travis Anderson, who coached Dreyer with the Diamond Jacks Super 15U team two summers ago. “He’s a baseball rat, a player you want in your dugout.” Truly, Dreyer devours everything baseball and seems to turn that voracious appetite into valuable contributions on the field.
Dreyer, at 5-7, 160, is not going to turn heads immediately like, say, his Stetson University-bound Super 16U teammate Jayden Hylton, who struts out of the dugout at 6-6, 205. But the attention Dreyer has received and will continue to receive is for a bat boasting consistent lethality and for possessing as well-rounded a game for which a coach can hope.
Dreyer, in fact, was shaping up as Delbarton’s starting shortstop last spring as a sophomore and batting fifth in a stacked Green Wave lineup. He, in fact, was slotted into those spots for Delbarton’s entry in the highly successful Last Dance Tournament in July. That tournament included 222 high school teams in the state and Delbarton’s entry, the Tidal Wave, reached the final eight.
The significance of Dreyer inheriting the shortstop position at Delbarton cannot be minimized from a recent historical perspective. Dreyer follows two former Diamond Jacks at the position for the Green Wave. All-Stater Anthony Volpe was drafted in the first round by the Yankees in 2019 after leading his team that spring to the NJSIAA Non-Public A state championship. Andrew Papantonis, now a junior at the University of Houston, preceded Volpe and earned All-State honors twice for the Green Wave.
“With Delbarton being one of the premier high school baseball programs in New Jersey,” said Papantonis by text from Houston, “Connor certainly is in a great position to be a leader on the team. Although I don’t know Connor that well personally, from what I’ve heard he’s a great player and an even better kid. Delbarton baseball is in great hands if it’s being led by a kid with that sort of talent and character.”
Compliments aside, Dreyer thrives off any and all competition.
“I would like to be at their level or higher,” said Dreyer, never one to shy from a challenge. “It’s obviously a bar that is set really, really high. I think by the time I’m done I can catch up to those guys. I think I’m capable of doing things they’ve done.”
Papantonis has battled injuries through his high school and college years and many believe that is the only thing that can hold back his immense talent at Houston and beyond. Volpe has played at the highest levels since he was 10, competing internationally with Team USA. And now, he’s playing professionally for the Yankees on a large signing bonus. So, yes, Dreyer has big goals and big dreams.
Dreyer looks, sounds and competes like a Division 1 talent, so it was no surprise when he entertained offers from UConn and Boston College. He was in position for several more queries when he pinned down his commitment to Boston College on Aug. 11. He had schools like Rutgers, Wake Forest and a few other ACC schools on his wish list. But, he’ll admit, BC was his No. 1 all along.
“I started talking to Boston College a year earlier,” said Dreyer. “It was after a game at Diamond Nation. Then I went to a camp at BC in the winter and another camp their the summer after that. At that point, they said they would like to see me play in the spring for my high school and see how I grow as a player.”
The COVID-19 pandemic knocked out that important sophomore season for Dreyer and, just as quickly, the recruiting game went dark as the NCAA put a lid on in-person recruiting by Division 1 coaches.
“I didn’t talk to BC for like six months,” said Dreyer. “A coach I know from another team is good friends with the BC staff and he got me back in touch with them. I sent videos and started talking to the head coach (Mike Gambino).”
Dreyer had grown a fondness for the Eagles and it wasn’t long before the feeling was reciprocated.
“They said they liked what I do and how I play,” said Dreyer. “They offered and I accepted. I was happy because it was my top school. It’s a beautiful atmosphere there, the academics are top-notch and it’s a winning culture. They have three potential first round draft picks on their roster this year.”
Gambino has, indeed, turned Boston College into an ACC Tournament regular during his 10 years at the helm in Chestnut Hill, Mass.
The academic side was very important, too, for Dreyer, who carried a 3.9 GPA his sophomore year at Delbarton and boasts straight A’s thus far this fall.
“Delbarton is very competitive academically,” said Dreyer. “It’s no walk in the park. You have to study every night and get your homework done. It’s not easy. I’m competitive as a student, too, though. I like to win at whatever I’m doing.”
Dreyer is leaning toward a business major at Boston College and says math is his strongest subject.
A Chatham native, Dreyer arrived at Diamond Nation at the age of 9 and was already playing up an age group when he was assigned to the Diamond Jacks 10U squad.
“I first met Connor when he was eight or nine and in our winter Patriot League,” said Diamond Jacks coach Mike Buckelew. “The biggest thing that stood out to me about Connor was his work ethic and dedication. Even at that age, he was always the first guy in the cage taking extra swings before practice and games. He’s a fierce competitor. Now as a junior in high school he’s doing the same thing. Those things can’t be taught and that’s been his approach since 10U.”
Dreyer still has memories from that 10U team.
“I remember we were pretty good,” he said. “We mercied a team our first game, so that was a good start.”
Dreyer couldn’t come into a much better high school situation athletically than to be placed under the tutelage of Delbarton baseball coach Bruce Shatel. The Green Wave mentor not only has 339 career victories in baseball but more than 400 wins in hockey. He is the son of the late Harry Shatel, whose 752 career victories at Morristown High once led the entire state of New Jersey. That’s a pretty fair lineage.
“When I first met coach Shatel, he just gave off a winning vibe,” says Dreyer. “Winning is all he wants to do. Playing for him is more of a team-thing, not an individual thing. That’s part of the reason I wanted to go to Delbarton. I want to win state championships. That’s the goal.”
Dreyer seems to be the type of player Shatel has filled his roster with the past 13 years at Delbarton, players who can do the things that fit nicely into his well-considered and well-executed game plans.
“Connor is a ballplayer,” said Shatel. “He is passionate about the game. He can play a bunch of different positions. As a middle infielder, he can defend at a high level. He has gap-to-gap power, he can bunt, he can run. He has good instincts on the bases. He’ll play a big role on our team this spring.”
Dreyer is not done as a Diamond Jack, not for another year, but while creating his own legacy at the Flemington, N.J. facility, he has marched in lockstep with the stars before him.
“One of the greatest compliments a player can receive is when an opposing coach comes up to me and says, ‘Man I love the way that number 11 plays the game,” says Buckelew. “I’ve heard that probably every weekend for the last seven years about Connor. That says a lot about him.”
Dreyer made an impression on Anderson just as quickly.
“The first or second game I coached him, he hit a double, a home run and, in his third at bat he walked,” said Anderson. “The ball gets away from the catcher on the walk and rolls up the first base line. Connor notices the catcher being lazy, puts his head down and races to second base. He’s one of the few kids I’ve never had to tell to hustle. He’s an absolute general on the field. He holds people accountable.”
Dreyer admits, the frustrations of the sport and his will to compete at a high level led to some angry outburst as a younger player.
“I learned from coach Buck’ that you have to mentally hold it together. Stay calm,” says Dreyer. “Coach Buck taught me how to play the game when I was younger. I was kind of a hothead. He taught me to chill out.”
Dreyer played for Walter Cleary at the 12U and 14U levels and benefited, too, from another incisive and persuasive type of coaching.
“Coach Walt is one of my favorite coaches,” says Cleary. “He wants to win and is fun to play for. And he’s a really good hitting coach. I still have a little leg kick he taught me.”
Cleary, clearly, had just as much fun from his end.
“Connor has always been the centerpiece to his teams,” says Cleary. “He leads and backs it up. His swing packs a punch and he’s never afraid of a situation, whether it’s leading off an inning to get a rally going, hitting in a big spot, stealing a bag to give his team a shot at a run or taking the ball on the mound in a big situation.”
Dreyer’s focus now is on his winter workouts as he prepares for a spring he, and so many high school players, long for like no other.
“I’m working real hard in the gym and the cages,” says Dreyer. “I switched some things up. I’m holding the bat a little different, putting my pinky on the knob. I find it relieves a little stress on my grip. I was gripping the bat too tight. I tried it in my last game of the fall and went 2-for-3 with a triple. So it worked.
“I’m going to lock in on my hitting. I plan to absolutely tear it up next spring. There’s no holding back.”
Holding back? Connor Dreyer? We think not.
EXTRA INNINGS: Dreyer often batted third or fourth in the deep and talented Diamond Jacks Super 16U lineup. It was a Class of 2022 roster that amassed a total of 10 Division 1 commitments by summer’s end. Clemson-bound Chris Maldonado led off and Stetson-commit Jayden Hylton batted second. Dreyer was followed by Lorenzo Meola, also headed to Stetson, Chris Baillargeon (’21), who gave his verbal to Holy Cross, Andres Suarez, who’ll catch for Ohio State, and outfielders Ben Romano (Tulane) and Matty Wright (Stony Brook). Lefthanders Truman Richter (Virginia Tech) and Kyle McCoy (Maryland) fronted an equally deep pitching staff.