"It's baseball," Nunez said. "Baseball was the first sport I ever played and it's the sport I've loved since I was seven years old, playing T-ball. Still to this day, it's my favorite."
Although Nunez hasn't played competitive baseball for two years, it's perhaps her greatest legacy. In 2002, Nunez became the first Hudson County girl to ever win a varsity baseball game, having defeated Snyder - in a game where she pitched a no-hitter.
But after that season, Nunez faced the cold, hard reality that playing softball provided a better future and a possible meal ticket to a college scholarship. She wasn't going to get a free ride for baseball. While there were some college opportunities for volleyball and basketball, the chances for a full scholarship were very slim. Softball represented her ticket out.
"You better believe that was the hardest decision of my life," Nunez said. "I cried and cried. I just wanted to make everyone happy. I knew I wasn't getting anywhere with baseball. But I just loved the game."
However, when Nunez made the transformation from playing baseball with and against the boys to competing with her peers on the softball field, it was like she always belonged. In fact, Memorial softball coach Ryan Raparelli made Nunez into a catcher, a position she never played during her baseball career.
"I always wanted to catch in baseball, but I never had the chance," Nunez said. "When Coach Raparelli told me he wanted me to be a catcher, I said, 'No problem.' And really, it was no problem."
Sure didn't seem that way. In her two years of softball, Nunez batted .450 and drove in a total of 76 runs. She hit a total of 11 homers over two years and more importantly, displayed a cannon of a throwing arm that was developed by pitching baseball all those years. This year alone, Nunez threw out 14 runners on the base paths, a number that astounded opposing coaches.
"I've never seen anything like it," said one opposing coach. "Mercy has the best arm I've ever seen."
So when you put it all together, you have the reason why Nunez has been selected as the 2003-2004 Hudson Reporter Female Athlete of the Year. She is the first recipient of the Female Athlete of the Year award. The award will now be awarded annually to both the top male and female athletes in the area.
Two other girls, Cheri Selby of St. Dominic Academy (1994-1995) and Tiffany Aciz of Secaucus (2000-2001), had received the Athlete of the Year award in the past.
Nunez never dreamed that her career would evolve the way it did.
"I was afraid to play as a freshman," Nunez said. "I told the junior varsity volleyball coach to take me with him, because the older players were busting my chops. I didn't think I could do it. I was also really short back then. I remember people saying, 'I hope that girl grows some.' I knew I was perhaps one step better with the other girls in West New York, but I really didn't know how I'd turn out against the other girls in the county."
If there was one thing that pushed Nunez more than anything else, it was playing on a daily basis with and against the boys in her neighborhood.
"When I went to the park, I played with the guys," Nunez said. "I never played with the girls. That always made me better."
Always wanting to play baseball, she didn't know if she'd get permission to try out on the high school level. Even veteran baseball coach Tony Ferrainolo didn't know the rules, whether Nunez could actually play baseball.
"My baseball teammates told me that I should try out, because they said I was better than half of them," Nunez said. "That gave me the courage to try. Coach Ferrainolo took me aside and told me he had to check if I could play. Once I knew I could, it was a relief."
Her athletic prowess just continued from sport to sport.
"Mercy was a big hitter for us, a ferocious player," said veteran Memorial volleyball coach John Wengerter. "She was such a tough competitor. Whenever we were in trouble, we made sure she got the ball. As an all-around volleyball player, she's one of our best ever. She could hit, pass, make plays. She also made it fun. She was also helpful and was able to share that ability with the others on the team. It's not going to be easy to replace her."
"As far as our players go, she's at the top of the list," Memorial girls' basketball coach Craig Kuzirian said. "She was the team leader, and her knowledge of the game was exceptional. She was very unselfish, almost too unselfish at times. She did everything for us. Without a doubt, it will be a while before someone else comes along like her. She's a great student, comes from a great family. I loved coaching her and I'm going to miss her."
Raparelli said that Nunez exceeded all expectations he had.
"I didn't expect her to be a leader," Raparelli said. "I thought that it would take her some time to fit in, coming over from baseball, but she took over the leadership role right away. Just her presence alone made a big difference. I can't even explain how much she meant to us. She was a joy to be around."
Nunez had a college scholarship offer to go to Fairleigh Dickinson University, but when she realized that FDU didn't offer physical education as a major, she decided to take an academic scholarship to William Paterson University instead. Nunez will definitely play softball at WPU and will tryout for the volleyball team as well.
"I want to become a teacher and a coach, so I can come back here to Memorial," Nunez said. "I think this was a great accomplishment for me. I know a lot of other girls probably wanted this award, but I'm glad I got it. I worked hard for many years."
So will Memorial ever see another Mercedes Nunez?
"Maybe we have to develop one sometime in the future," Nunez laughed. "Maybe when I give birth."
Now, there's something to look forward to in the years to come. Make that many years.
"I'm not ready for that quite yet," Nunez laughed. "It's definitely been a lot of fun and I definitely don't have any regrets."
Nor should she. Mercedes Nunez had an athletic career most girls only dream of. Now, others will try hard to duplicate her incredible achievements. - Jim Hague