POMONA, N.Y. – The All-American Baseball Challenge launched on July 23 at Palisades Credit Union Park in Pomona, featuring a distinct local flare among the participants.
A number of former local scholastic standouts who have either recently wrapped up their college careers on the diamond or would have been playing either affiliated minor league baseball or independent league ball will dot the rosters of the two squads based in Rockland County.
One name that jumps off the roster sheet is former Lakeland High School (Shrub Oak) standout Jonathan de Marte, who, after three years of independent ball, including stints in Australia with the Perth Heat in the winter of 2019 and with the Frontier League’s Quebec Capitales later that summer, signed a contract with the Chicago Cubs this past spring.
However, like all professional players not on a Major League Baseball roster, de Marte was on the outside looking in when MLB shut down its Spring Training facilities in March.
The All-American Baseball Challenge has given the 2010 and 2011 Gatorade New York State High School Player of the Year and former Richmond University Spider the opportunity to continue to hone his skills.
“It is great to have the chance to compete again,” de Marte, 27, said. “I am so thankful for the opportunity. I am also thankful that the Cubs allowed me to do this. As an older guy, I need to get my work in and face batters.”
He continued, “There is only so much that you can do development-wise until you reach that point where you just want to play a game.”
The All-American Baseball Challenge is a six-team league that will be played at the home ballparks of three Frontier League franchises: Palisades Credit Union Park in Pomona, Skylands Stadium in Augusta, N.J., and Yogi Berra Stadium in Montclair, N.J.
PCU Park is the home of the New York Boulders, Skylands Stadium is the home base of the Sussex County Miners, and Yogi Berra Stadium is the host diamond for the New Jersey Jackals.
“The level of play in the league is going to be really good,” de Marte said. “I have run into a lot of guys that I have crossed paths with from my days playing independent ball.”
A highly recruited pitcher coming out of high school in 2011, injuries and surgeries sidetracked de Marte’s college career. The surgeries were numerous and ran from a torn rotator cuff to a hernia.
The injuries kept him off the diamond for the entire 2015 season. Late in the 2016 campaign, de Marte made his first appearance back on the mound after spending the first part of that season as a corner infielder for the Spiders.
Since then, he has basically reinvented himself—changing his training regime.
“I changed my body and how I throw and noticed a change in how I was throwing the ball,” de Marte said.
It was last winter playing in Australia that a scout for the Cubs noticed de Marte, who, after coming home after New Year’s, threw for the Cubs, San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics at a tryout.
He signed with the Cubs a short time later.
de Marte is also a member of Team Israel and was set to play in the postponed 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics and the 2021 World Baseball Classic.
While next spring’s WBC has already been canceled by Major League Baseball, de Marte is still optimistic that he may get the chance to enjoy the Olympic experience.
“The Olympics was devastating,” de Marte said. “Even more devastating than this year’s minor league season getting canceled. The Olympics are a once in a lifetime experience and if it canceled again next year, I may never get that chance because baseball is not in the 2024 Games.”
The 32-game schedule that began on July 23 will feature the Rockland Boulders (not affiliated with the New York Boulders) and New York Brave playing at Palisades Credit Union Park; Sussex County Miners and Skylands Cardinals at Skylands Stadium in Augusta; and the New Jersey Jackals and the Jersey Wise Guys will play at Yogi Berra Stadium in Montclair.
All games will be held on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and will run through the weekend following Labor Day in September.
In accordance with New York State guidelines, crowds will be limited and masks required as part of the ballpark’s guest separation safety protocol. Schedule and ticket information is available at palisadescreditunionpark.com.