By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
There were at least a dozen college coaches and professional baseball scouts milling around behind home plate at the back field of the Diamond Nation complex in Flemington on Wednesday night. Shooting the breeze and comparing notes in the middle innings of the inaugural Garden State Baseball Underclass Games, a pair of 10-inning games going on simultaneously that featured more than 100 of the best sophomore and junior baseball players New Jersey has to offer. Not unlike countless other showcase events they had, no
doubt, attended throughout their coaching or scouting careers.
Then they heard the whizzing sound. Then the loud pop of the baseball smacking the catcher’s glove. Baseball lifers know this sound the moment they hear it. It’s like a 5-year-old whose radar starts crackling the moment mom pops the top off the cookie jar.
The coaches and scouts started digging into their pockets for the pamphlet with the rosters of the four teams. “Hey, who’s number 75?” “Yo, you know who this kid is? He’s not on the South team’s roster.” “What’s the lowdown on this kid? Where is he from?”
Scouts, meet Bryan Dobzanski.
When a 6-foot-3, 215-pound 17-year-old starts registering 93 mph on the radar gun, people who go to baseball games with pens and notepads start taking notice. The Garden State Underclass Games, sponsored by Verdero Sports and Diamond Nation, is a showcase event in its first year put on to give college coaches and pro scouts a chance to get a sneak peak at the talent coming up through the pipeline on the New Jersey baseball scene. Dobzanski, a junior at Delsea Regional High School in Gloucester County, was a late addition to the South team and faced only three batters. It was enough to open eyes and turn heads.
“It’s the first time they are doing this underclassmen thing and you see some good players that are going to be playing high school ball next year,” Dobzanski said. “You’re definitely nervous out there at first. You want to do your best. That’s how baseball is, some days you don’t have it and some days you do, and fortunately I had it today and hopefully they had a good view of me.”
Dobzanski is the kind of player scouts drool over. They look at him the way a starry-eyed cheerleader might fawn over the handsome star quarterback. He’s got size and he’s got athleticism. In March, Dobzanski capped off a 42-0 wrestling season by winning the 220-pound state championship at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall.
“He won a state wrestling championship, so you know he’s mentally tough,” said Matt Belford, a baseball coach at Elizabeth High School who was coaching the Northwest team that was facing Dobzanski’s team from the South. “You know a kid like that isn’t going to get rattled on the mound.”
Oh, and he’s also pumping fastballs in the low 90s, this from a kid who isn’t even a full-time baseball player all year round. No doubt Dobzanski’s email inbox will start getting a lot more jammed up very soon.
Another player who left an impression was Vineland junior infielder Johnny Malatesta, who played a big role in helping the South team beat Northwest 3-1. Malatesta may not be a beast (5-foot-11, 140 pounds) but he’s an accomplished baseball player who does the little things well. He batted better than .400 and helped lead Vineland High School to a 21-win season, tying a school record for wins in a season. On Wednesday night at Diamond Nation, he handled several chances at both shortstop and second base, and went 2-for-2 at the plate with an RBI and two runs scored. The South’s other RBI came via a towering solo home run to left field by Toms River South’s Russell Messler.
And while the event was a coming out party for several players, the event itself was a
coming out party for New Jersey high school baseball. The Diamond Nation facility is outstanding, with four fields completely dressed with high-quality artificial surfacing, bullpens, sunken dugouts and even indoor batting cages. And the players get to show their skills in front of dozens of college coaches and scouts.
Said Dobzanski, who struck out two of the three batters he faced in his one inning of work, “This is a good place to get good looks and you can definitely build a good college, or even draft, view off this.”
“It’s outstanding. We all said that we can’t believe that this is the first time in all these years it has taken to get this. Kudos to Diamond Nation, they put a lot into this with the shirts and the hats and freeing their facility up,” Belford said. “It’s amazing how many great baseball players are in New Jersey.”
The coaches seemed to be enjoying the opportunity just as much as the players.
“In high school, if you’re having a great year you have four or five guys in your lineup that are that great, and that’s a great year,” Belford said. “You never have THIS many good players.”
“It was great. Awesome,” said Joe Smith, an assistant coach at Vineland High School under John Malatesta, Johnny’s father. “It’s very similar to the Carpenter Cup. It’s a great outing. You have all the kids here at once and it’s just neat to coach kids you read about in the paper.
“For the kids, they’re probably a little overwhelmed being out in the field and looking behind the backstop and seeing radar guns and college jackets and hats and clipboards. It must have been a great experience for them.”