SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ -- Before the worldwide pandemic intervened and changed everything at the beginning of the spring, South Brunswick High School baseball coach CJ Hendricks was looking forward to a season in which 10 seniors were going to have the opportunity to earn playing time.
In 2019, the Vikings reached the championship game of the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament. They did so with 15 seniors. That means 10 more kids from the Class of 2020, many of whom were biding their time waiting for their own chance to shine, were set to make their mark this spring.
But the season they were waiting for never began. Schools shut down in mid-March, never to reopen the rest of the academic year.
"We had started an almost all senior lineup last year. Almost every spot in the lineup was open this spring," Hendricks said this week. "No spots were gonna be given. The kids need to know they have a fair shot of earning a way into the lineup or onto the team. We had Joey Tuttoilmondo who lettered as a freshman last year; he was our only experienced varsity pitcher, but other than that there were only two of three guys in the lineup who had much varsity experience."
Hendricks expressed sympathy for all the kids in his program, particularly its seniors.
"This year's seniors, this season was their shot, and my heart breaks for them," Hendricks said. "It breaks for everybody, but everybody looks back at their senior year, and it's tough in these kids who didn't get their chance to play."
Hendricks said that the season is also a big loss for junior players who could have used that opportunity to get noticed if they are planning to continue playing baseball in college. He has continued to communicate with his players even after the season was officially canceled the first week of May.
"I met with the seniors in a Zoom meeting early in the shutdown," Hendricks said. "We reach out to our guys with Remind and try to stay connected, we have laid out workouts on our team website. We break everything down position specific and try to give them as much guidance as we can. After season was called, we put a lot of our time into explaining to families what we'll do moving forward as far as senior recognitions. We've made end of season compilation videos. We will do a Senior Day with a DVD, and we'll drop off mementos for them. We'll try to make something really special for the seniors. We've stayed connected."
Hendricks singled out the 10 Class of 2020 players in his program, each of whom has been showcased on the team's website (click here).
"We had 10 seniors this year, at least six of whom had some level of varsity experience," he said. "Our entire outfield played behind other guys last year. Matt Storch is going on to play at Stockton. Kyle Gruver will play at Mercer County College. Jay Chaddah is a catcher who is very polished. He's a three-year letter winner. Alex Strange would have helped us on the mound. he had the game-winning assist in sectional basketball final in March. Matthew Siva-Harrison is a senior outfielder for us. Tej Ramaiah is a pitcher with good stuff. Kyle Fisher, a first baseman, was gonna get a shot after playing behind seniors last year. Dom Servedio would have been our second baseman, and Drew von Bargen and Gio DeLuca both would have been in our bullpen."
With the news coming out this week that New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has relaxed the restrictions on team sports and will allow baseball to resume being played in the state on June 22, South Brunswick's summer plans for the sport currently are being mulled.
"With everything going on now, our guys are champing at the bit to get on the field and be around each other again," Hendricks said. "They just want to see their friends. As a life component, that's important. As a parent and teacher, we want them to have some normalcy back. My focus is that, baseball means something to a lot of us, and we all miss it, but there's a lot of life things these kids are missing, too. Let's make sure everybody is safe, and doing things the right way. If we rush back in and this thing kicks back up again, I am more leaning on the side of reservation. Let's be safe and wait until we get the info we need before we decide what to do (for the summer)."