Throughout his life, Tino Salgado was always told he was too small, too short to play major college baseball.
But the Hudson Catholic senior just got a chance to shoot down those myths, when he officially signed his National Letter of Intent to attend the University of Rhode Island on a baseball scholarship beginning in the fall of 2019.
“It just shows that hard work pays off,” said Salgado, a two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree as a second baseman. “Every time I put on the cleats, I had to put my mind to it that I could achieve my dream.”
Salgado was one of three Hudson Catholic athletes to sign National Letters of Intent recently, joining classmates Kaylana Leechow and Danny Rodriguez.
Leechow was the libero for the Hudson Catholic girls’ volleyball team that recently won their fourth straight Hudson County Tournament championship. She signed her letter to attend Adelphi University in the fall.
Rodriguez is the power forward for the Hawks’ boys’ basketball team that has an even more impressive win streak in county titles, having won their seventh straight county crown last February. Rodriguez signed his letter to attend Fairleigh Dickinson University and play basketball for the Knights beginning in the fall of 2019.
Salgado’s chances to play NCAA Division I baseball were enhanced by strong showings in summer showcases all over the country, including the Underclass Games at Diamond Nation in Flemington in June.
“Rhode Island actually approached me and then I went on a visit there,” Salgado said. “I really liked the coaches. Just the way they welcomed me made me feel at home. They all greeted me with open arms and made me feel welcomed. I then fell in love with the campus.”
Salgado plans to major in criminal justice at URI with the hope of one day becoming a police officer. Ironically, his head coach at Hudson Catholic, Alberto Vasquez, became a Jersey City police officer after a fine baseball career at Rutgers.
Salgado, who batted an even .500 with 28 RBI last season, is pleased that he can now concentrate on baseball this spring and not have to worry about his college future.
“It’s the biggest relief in the world,” Salgado said. “It takes away from all the stress I was having. Now, my life is easier and my mind is freer. This is definitely beyond a dream come true. I guess you can say that I am proof that dreams do come true if you work hard enough. I’m happy to do this for my parents, after all they’ve done for me. It proves that my hard work wasn’t for nothing.”
Leechow visited several schools, but liked Adelphi.
“It made me feel like I belonged, like it was the perfect fit,” Leechow said. “I didn’t choose to be a libero. It chose me. It’s a height thing. Since I’m short, it was a good position for me to play.”
Leechow plans to major in marketing.
“I never thought this was possible,” Leechow said. “I played volleyball for fun. I never thought there was a chance I could get a scholarship from it. This is super exciting. It’s rewarding that all my hard work has paid off.”
Leechow also received financial aid for her academic standing. She maintains a 3.9 grade point average in the school’s Scholars program. She is also a member of the National Honor Society and she’s a student ambassador to the newly formed NJSIAA committee.
Rodriguez said that he liked the family aspect of FDU, especially with head coach Greg Herenda, a North Bergen native who played high school basketball at St. Peter’s Prep.
“The way the coaches gravitated towards me and made me feel wanted,” Rodriguez said. “I liked the atmosphere there. Plus, it’s close to home, so I liked that.”
Rodriguez said that he wondered if he was going to get the chance to play NCAA Division I basketball.
“I won’t say I was worried, but it was something that was on my mind,” said Rodriguez, who watched three of his former teammates sign big-time letters last year. “I think that helped me become a better player. It made me wonder why I wasn’t being offered.”
Rodriguez said that he felt comfortable with Herenda, considering both are Hudson County basketball products.
“There was a bond between us,” Rodriguez said. “That really helped. I know now what I have to work on to become a better player. I think I’m capable of playing their style of basketball. I’m trying now to become more versatile and play facing the basket more, instead of with my back to the basket all the time. I need to add that to my game, to face up and take the outside shot.”
Rodriguez said that he remembered the words of former assistant coach Kenny Pigantello at the school’s signing for former teammates Jahvon Quinerly, Luther Muhammad and Louis King last year.
“Coach Kenny said, ‘You’re next,’” Rodriguez said. “He was right. It’s a huge relief for me. I can take the stress away and just play basketball. I’m going to enjoy basketball more and try to get better. I can take a deep breath and just do the best that I can. I told Coach Herenda that I’m going to be the most energized guy on the floor.”
Needless to say, it was a proud day for Hudson Catholic, sending three seniors on to their respective sports with a scholarship letter in hand.