What may replace a player’s batting average or on-base percentage as his most important stat this season?
Try body temperature.
Welcome to the pandemic era of high school baseball in New Jersey.
“In the back of our minds we always have to be grateful for the season that we have here and that any game can be our last,” Union head coach Angel Navarrete said.
Union is scheduled to open Tuesday, April 20 at home against New Providence. The initial Opening Day in New Jersey is Monday, April 19.
Making sure his players are safe at home - no pun intended - and safe on the field is even more important than Navarrete waving one of his players around the bases.
“Coaching during a pandemic is now the new normal,” Navarrete said. “Not just our baseball players but all of the student-athletes here at Union need to really thank Athletic Director Linda Ionta and trainers Meg Berry and Johnny Rodriguez for putting their feet forward and leading our sports program.
“They’ve been coordinating our outdoor and indoor sports all year long and have set the foundation for how to proceed and play during a pandemic.”
After not being able to play at all last year this year’s players are learning how to be prepared to do their best in manners never realized before.
“We have our (Coved-19) protocols prior to practice and during practice and the rest of the work we’re used to,” Navarrete said. “The rest is status quo. The kids are aware of what’s going on.”
Navarrete, a 2000 Cranford graduate who is now in his seventh season at the helm of the Farmers, like most coaches felt the worst for his seniors who were deprived playing last year.
“It was really tough,” said Navarrete, whose first season at the helm was 2014. “We built up the program to get to last year actually.
“We had 12-14 seniors and nine or 10 of them were going to be significant players for us, some six-to-nine starters. The kids worked quite hard in the off-season, in the weight room and the summer before and the hardest part was watching all the hard work get cancelled.
“We would have really competed with the top teams in the county.”
Also like most coaches Navarrete was fully aware that it was just going to be a matter of time before the powers that be made the total opposite announcement of “Play Ball.”
“At first it was two weeks and let’s see what happens,” Navarrete said. “Then it was the middle of May and we knew there were a lot more problematic things going on.”
Navarrete and his staff were delighted to coach all but one of last year’s seniors – Andrew Sanborn was focusing on his college football commitment at American International – in last summer’s Last Dance Tournament.
Union played three games, its final one a 6-4 setback at eventual champion Cranford.
“It at least gave our seniors some resemblance of closure,” Navarrete said. “It was not a full season, but for a full week it was great to be around our kids again. Our kids got to compete and we got to say our goodbyes, which was nice. Much thanks to the people that put the tournament together.
“These seasons shape the kids’ character going forward. It’s important for them to compete and be around teammates.”
As for this season’s revolution Navarette was fully in favor from day one.
“I love it,” Navarrete said of the later start and ending of the season, starting with pitchers and catchers only first reporting. “Anything is better than what happened last year.
“Pitchers get a chance to get their feet wet and hopefully we got some more games in warmer weather. We’re all grateful for having a full season with all the tournaments and so forth.”
Union’s four seniors are all ticketed to play Division 3 baseball in college, pitcher Mike Cassandra and shortstop Jalen Bryant at Marywood University, catcher Matt Silvestre at Swarthmore College and second baseman Joe Rivera at Eastern University. Navarrete said Silvestre selected Swarthmore more for academic reasons.
“All four take their academics and baseball very seriously,” Navarrete said. “They are quintessential program kids.”
Silvestre (5-8, 205) is a four-year (including last year before it was cancelled) varsity performer who played junior varsity the first half of his freshman season in 2018 and then moved up to the varsity at designated hitter the second half. He played third base and pitched his sophomore campaign in 2019.
Last year would have been Silvestre’s first year behind the plate. Silvestre is ranked among the top backstops in the state.
“Matt is everything you want in a catcher,” Navarrete said. “He’s physically and laterally quick. He has a strong arm and blocks everything.
“Mentally, he knows what pitchers are doing wrong and works with their pitch selection. None of our pitchers have varsity experience, so they need a lot of coaching. Matt is a tremendous help.”
Bryant is a four-year varsity starter who played in the outfield and then the infield in 2018 and again in 2019, specifically at right field, left field and third base.
“He’s a superb athlete,” said Navarrete, who plans on having Bryant bat leadoff. “This is his first year playing an established position.”
Rivera played first base, second base and was a DH for Union two years ago.
“We always have ambitions of competing for division, county and state tournament championships,” Navarrete said. “This year is no different. We always want to be competing at a high level every day and try to get better for what takes place at the end of the year.”
As of Thursday, April 15 Union had scrimmaged River Dell, Edison and Somerville on the road and is scheduled to scrimmage at Middletown South on Friday, April 16.
Union has one scrimmage scheduled at home, vs. Ridgewood on Saturday, April 17.
“That will be the first time we play a game on our home field in 22 months,” said Navarette, whose 2019 team fashioned a 12-11 record one year after the 2018 squad reached the Union County Tournament semifinals.
UNION FARMERS 2021
Mike Cassandra, senior, RH
Bryan Saiboo, junior, RH
Nick Cassandra, sophomore, RH
Anthony Maglizzoi, sophomore, RH
Michael DaSilva, sophomore, RH
Aiden Baiardi, sophomore, LH
Gabriel Gobbi, freshman, RH
Matt Silvestre, senior
Elvin Espinal, junior
Joe Rivera, senior
Michael DaSilva, sophomore
Nick Cassandra, sophomore
Jalen Bryant, senior
Guy Francis, junior
Danny Gonzalez, junior
Ryan D’Addario, junior
Danny Gonzalez, junior
Guy Francis, junior
(Weather and now Covid-19 permitting)
April 20 New Providence, 4 p.m.
April 22 at Summit, 4 p.m.
April 27 at Gov. Livingston, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division
April 28 at Spotswood, 4:30 p.m.
April 30 Westfield, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division
May 1 at Scotch Plains, 10 a.m. – Watchung Division
May 3 Elizabeth, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division
May 4 at Johnson, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division
May 6 Cranford, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division
May 7 Gov. Livingston, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division
May 10 at Monroe, 4 p.m.
May 12 at Elizabeth, 4 p.m. – Watching Division
May 14 Johnson, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division
May 15 at Cranford, 10 a.m. – Watchung Division
May 18 Columbia, 4 p.m.
May 20 at Westfield, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division
May 27 Scotch Plains, 4 p.m. – Watchung Division
May 29 at St. John Vianney, 11 a.m.
June 9 Piscataway, 4 a.m.
June 10 at Colonia, 4 p.m.
UNION COUNTY CONFERENCE
BASEBALL FOR 2021
WATCHUNG DIVISION (7 schools):
MOUNTAIN DIVISION (7 schools):
VALLEY DIVISION (6 schools):
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