A year ago, the Marist High School baseball team was perhaps the biggest surprise on the Hudson County diamonds. On the last day of the regular season, the Royal Knights managed to snare the No. 8 seed in the HCIAA Coviello playoffs and then pulled off the shocker of the year by upsetting regular season champ and top-seed St. Peter’s Prep in the first round.
The late-season surge enabled Ron Hayward to secure Hudson Reporter Coach of the Year honors.
But as the 2009 season kicks into full gear, there will be no such sneaking up on anyone. The Royal Knights are considered a contender from the very first pitch, thanks mainly to having a pitcher-catcher 1-2 punch that could very well be the best in the school’s history – and that says a lot, considering people like former major leaguer Joe Borowski is a Marist grad.
“We have some special players,” Hayward said. “That is really big to have. If you have go-to kids, you don’t have to worry about them getting the job done. If you need a big hit, they come through. If you need a big game to win, they’re there. It’s really big.”
Sure is. The pitcher is Fabian Roman, who defeated Prep last spring and has come out like gangbusters this year, winning both of his starts, his latest being a 16-strikeout, three-hit shutout of Hudson Catholic last Tuesday.
Over the winter, Roman’s stock simply exploded, by attending a series of workout camps and clinics in front of major league and college scouts. At one of those workouts, Roman was clocked at 94 miles per hour, which made everyone involved in the baseball scouting game stand up and take notice.
“He’s grown up a lot,” Hayward said of Roman, who also plays shortstop and first base when he’s not pitching. “He was a little immature in the past and let things get to him. But he’s more in control now. The scouts came to see him throw recently and on his first pitch, he hit 91 on the gun. One scout looked at me, laughing, and said, ‘Are you serious?’ He’s the real deal.”
Roman won five games on the mound last season for the Royal Knights and batted .350. No question, those numbers will improve this year and perhaps even double.
“He now knows that his future is as a pitcher,” Hayward said. “I knew that all along, he was a pitcher, but he complained about it. He didn’t want to pitch. When he said that, I said, `Well, then we don’t need you.’ But he quickly realized that he was special. Once he realized that he really had the ability, it all came together.”
Roman has already been projected as a prospect for the Major League Baseball free agent amateur draft in June, with one scouting service believing that Roman could go anywhere between the fourth and 10th rounds. That status could improve between now and then.
The catcher in this special Marist combination is junior Eddie Sorondo, who has been destined for greatness from probably the time he first put on the tools of ignorance and squatted behind home plate.
Sorondo earned All-Area honors last season as a sophomore, when he batted .570 with six homers and 37 RBI.
“He’s now a grown man,” Hayward said. “That’s what I call him, ‘The Grown Man.’ He’s really just a special player and a special kid. He’s my kind of player. He’s perfect in every way, offensively, defensively. He just gets the job done every single day.”
When the time comes for his chance to get drafted in June, 2010, Sorondo is certain to hear his name called. He just has to stay healthy, focused and determined, but his talents are truly endless.
The talent pool doesn’t end with just Roman and Sorondo. Junior third baseman Mike Malu has also impressed a ton of people with his approach, despite his diminutive 5-foot-6 frame.
“Mike went to a camp in Virginia and blew everyone away, especially with his arm,” Hayward said. “His arm is special for his height. He also can run very well and hits the ball with authority.”
Another player to watch is senior centerfielder Brandon Sims, who has also impressed others with his ability.
“I’m very happy with the way he’s playing in center,” Hayward said. “He’s going to have a very good year.”
The Royal Knights have depth in their pitching staff, with seniors Chris Salgado and Ricky Reyes on the hill. Salgado is a proven left-hander and Reyes remains one of the truly most inspirational stories ever, overcoming a series of illnesses and near-death experiences to get back to playing baseball once again.
Freshman Ivan Negado is a solid left-handed pitcher and senior Jeffrey Castillo rounds out the mound corps.
Castillo and senior Rudy Cordova are sharing duties at first base. Senior Julian Pierot is the starter at second base, where he played a year ago. Sophomore Jose Gonzalez, who has the makings of a good one, will play shortstop when Roman is on the mound.
Junior Mendela Williams, a transfer from Rahway High School, is the starter in left field, with Sims in center. Right field is being shared by junior Maurice Dunn and sophomore Jonathan Journett. Mike Martinez is a versatile sophomore who handles the utility role.
So the makings are there for a very special season for the Royal Knights.
“I think I enjoy the changing of the roles,” Hayward said. “It’s a learning experience for me, but it is definitely easier for me. The kids just have to play hard. People know the quality of baseball we play. I’m happy to be where we’re at. We’ve finally earned some respect.” – Jim Hague
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