By Jimmy Allinder
Lenin Gomez admits to being mesmerized by the newness that surrounded him when he arrived in the United States with his family from the Dominican Republic when he was 10 years old.
It’s little wonder the impressionable youngster immediately felt at ease when he realized baseball was held with the same high regard in his adopted country as it was in his native homeland, where the sport was Gomez’s true passion.
Once his family settled in Edison Township, Gomez grew more used to his new surroundings, especially at school, where he made friends and came to appreciate the quality education he received.
Then on April 25, 2012 — Gomez has the date indelibly etched in his mind — he learned that Karen Augustine, his eighth-grade homeroom and mathematics teacher, was killed an automobile accident.
“She was more than just a teacher,” said Gomez, recalling the impact Augustine had on his young life, not only in the classroom but also as she followed Gomez when he played baseball. “No matter how difficult the circumstances, whether it was in the classroom or on the [diamond], she always believed in me. To this day, I feel it’s important to honor her memory by doing my best so she would have been proud of me. “
Today, the Edison High School senior continues to live life with a purpose. He has become a member of the Student Council. And now that spring is near, Gomez is bursting with excitement as he prepares to play baseball for his senior year.
“Lenin is one of our energetic leaders and [is] very passionate about baseball,” Eagles coach Vinnie Abene said. “Sometimes, he gets so excited we have to calm him down.”
Emotions aside, Gomez has turned into one of the team’s better hitters with occasional power. Last year, he batted .280 with three home runs, 23 hits and 20 runs batted in, and perhaps his most valuable contribution may not be defined by statistics but as the team’s starting catcher.
“One of Lenin’s most valuable attributes is how he calls balls and strikes and keeps our team in every pitch and every game,” Abene said.
Gomez said keeping a clear head and staying focused on what’s happening on the field is an important job.
“I try not to think about too much when I’m behind the plate,” he said. “What’s going on in the back of my mind is keeping my pitcher under control and making sure he maintains his confidence. The other thing I do is be aware of different situations that could come into play.”
Asked about his most memorable moment playing for the Eagles, Gomez said it was the bond that developed between him and his teammates during the last year’s NJSIAA tournament.
“We went deep in the tournament and it was a great time because the team really came together,” Gomez said. “Although we lost in the [sectional finals to Millburn High School], we learned many things about what it takes to win — things we hope will carry over to this season.”
No doubt, Gomez will be important to Edison’s success this spring.
The last remaining area boys or girls basketball team in the NJSIAA tournament, Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen, saw its season end March 10.
The Falcons, seeded No. 1 in South Jersey, Non-Public A, were upended, 69-67, in overtime by third-seeded St. Augustine Preparatory School in a game highlighted by St. Joe’s spirited fourth-quarter comeback. The Metuchen high school was down, 40-29, but posted 30 points in a wild final quarter to tie the contest, 59-59, after regulation time.
The Falcons finished with a 22-6 record and look to replace three prime-time seniors: Tyus Battle (committed to Syracuse University), Breein Tyree (committed to the University of Mississippi) and Branislav Vujadinovic, who is likely a college recruit.
The J.P. Stevens High School girls basketball team only lasted one game into the North Jersey II, Group IV tournament, losing, 53-48, to Union High School March 1. But the Hawks finished 12-11 for their first winning season since 2007.
Fourth-year head coach Amy Bonk, a former J.P. Stevens player, said her No. 1 goal since taking over the program was to instill the same winning attitude that prevailed when she played.
“When I first started [coaching], there were six freshmen that I wanted to enjoy the feeling I had of playing for a winning team,” Bonk said. “I would tell them stories about my team and how we bonded together to become a unit, and that’s exactly what happened with this group.
“They’re graduating, but we have brought back a culture of understanding the importance of teamwork, never giving up and having fun.”
Bonk said another aspect of the culture is giving back to the community. Among the Hawks’ yearly activities has been dedicating a regular-season game to raise funds for cancer research in memory of the Hawks’ late coach, John Spiess.