Hudson Catholic head baseball coach Alberto Vasquez makes no bones about how talented junior first baseman/pitcher Jimmy Kemp is.
“As soon as I saw him play in eighth grade, I knew he always had something,” Vasquez said. “He could hit the ball. He had the bat speed. I could see that right away. I knew the kid could play.”
Kemp felt the same way.
“I always knew that I had the skill to do it,” Kemp said. “I just needed to prove it.”
Kemp became a starter with the Hawks from the minute he walked into the school on McGinley Square. He was a fixture in Vasquez’s lineup and showed signs of greatness.
But before he even had an at-bat with the Hawks, Kemp had to deal with adversity. He suffered a broken ankle while playing basketball in his backyard.
“The injury set me back,” Kemp said. “I had to bounce back. It took a lot of work to rehab that ankle. It took a lot of practice and a lot of hard work.”
Kemp returned in time to play varsity as a freshman, but batted only .200 in limited time.
Last year, as a sophomore, Kemp returned to action, but batted only .314 with seven RBI. Everyone knew that Kemp was better than his numbers showed, but he never got the opportunity to shine.
“I just worked to get better,” Kemp said. “The key was realizing my importance to the team. I wasn’t just playing for myself, but I was playing for my teammates. Last year, I was playing for myself and that was wrong. It was really selfish.”
And the person who snapped Kemp out of his selfish approach?
“No question, it was definitely Coach Vasquez,” Kemp said. “He told me that I needed to be more consistent. He told me that I needed to change. I knew I had to listen to the man.”
“I told him he had to become more responsible,” Vasquez said. “I told him what he needed to do in the offseason to get ready for this year. When we go over certain things, there was a reason for it. He understands it now. He’s getting it.”
The ability to hit the ball was always there.
“He has the power and the swing,” Vasquez said. “He has the bat speed. He’s just had some odd injuries over the past two years, but he came back this year in the best shape of his life.”
The young season is only one-third completed, but Kemp is putting together an astronomical season.
After just nine games, Kemp is batting .484 with two homers, three doubles, two triples and 17 RBI. He already has more hits this season than he collected all of last year when he was selected as a member of the Hudson Reporter High School Baseball All-Area team, but earned his spot among the best in the county as a pitcher, when he won three games and posted a stingy 0.89 earned run average.
In the past week, Kemp had 11 hits, including two triples and a homer, and 12 RBI. He had four hits and five RBI in a recent victory over University Academy Charter.
For his efforts, Kemp has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Needless to say, Vasquez is not surprised at all with Kemp’s arrival as a full-fledged star.
“I knew he was good, but not the way he’s been hitting the ball,” Vasquez said. “I knew he was going to be good, but never this good. It’s what we hoped for. Even most of his outs have been line drives. He’s really mashing the ball. He’s hitting it so hard that people are asking me when this college sophomore came on the team. He is really hitting the ball.”
And Kemp has yet to really pitch this season. Vasquez has kept Kemp off the mound because the Hawks have not faced the top teams thus far. But the schedule heats up now. The Hawks have games against Union City, Hoboken and Scotch Plains-Fanwood in the coming days.
Needless to say, Kemp will be ready to get his chance to pitch.
“I know what I need to do to be successful,” said Kemp, who plays for the famed Wladyka Baseball program during the summer months. Wladyka Baseball is headed by Jersey City native and baseball guru Joe Wladyka and his sons Jim and Joe, Jr. “I went to a lot of hitting camps and clinics with Wladyka and it really helped me.”
During the offseason, Kemp went to Wladyka Baseball’s facility regularly to face live pitching, including Ani Ramos, the long-time assistant coach with the New Jersey Jackals of the Can-Am League and St. Joseph Regional of Montvale. Ramos is one of the most respected hitting coaches in the state.
“It was all designed to get me to be a better hitter,” Kemp said. “It’s really paid off. It’s not just hitting. It’s everything. I know I got better. My hard work is paying off.”
Since Kemp is only a junior, he has not been besieged from college recruiters yet. But Kemp is a really big-time prospect who will sign an NCAA Division I letter of intent next year.
“There’s no doubt about that,” Vasquez said. “The college recruiters will be around all summer, no question. He’s a Division I player. He can definitely play at that level. No question, he has the talent. The recruiters will be knocking on his door all summer.”
Needless to say, the future looks bright for the slugging Hawk junior.
“I just have to keep doing what I’m doing,” Kemp said. “I’m open to talking to all the college recruiters and see what they have to say. It’s all coming together now. This year is going to be a big year for me.”
It already is. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com