By Jim Hague
North Arlington High School head baseball coach Paul Marcantuono knew that something was wrong with his standout junior pitcher/third baseman Ryan Fego.
After all, Fego hit .333 as a freshman. A year ago, as a sophomore, Fego batted an even .500 with 36 hits, flirting with the school record for hits in a single season.
“It’s pretty hard to top that,” Marcantuono admitted.
But as the 2012 season progressed, Fego wasn’t anywhere near the player he was during his first two years of high school.
“Ryan is a team guy first and he wanted to try catching,” Marcantuono said.
However, that wasn’t a good move, because Fego injured his knee while catching, suffering from a severe bout of tendinitis.
“I knew the knee was bothering him, but he never let on,” Marcantuono said. “He was basically playing on one leg. He was hobbling around and it definitely affected him at the plate.”
“I wasn’t at full speed,” Fego said. “It was definitely frustrating. I knew I was a better player. I hit .500 last year and wasn’t doing the same thing.”
In fact, it wasn’t even close, as Fego’s batting average dipped to under .200.
“I didn’t want the season to end that way,” Fego said. “It’s been a really disappointing season. I really thought that I would come around. I just had to try to get healthy.”
“You could see it in his face that he was really struggling,” Marcantuono said. “I dropped him in the lineup to take some of the pressure off him. Ryan absolutely loves baseball and when you see a kid love the game so much, then everyone on the team is rooting for him to come around.”
A week ago, Fego said that the pain in his knee subsided considerably.
“I woke up one morning feeling great,” Fego said. “I just wanted to go out and give a good performance.”
It wasn’t going to be easy. The Vikings were facing tough NJIC Meadowlands Division A foe Secaucus.
Everything came into form for Fego.
“My slider was working and my fastball had movement,” Fego said. “I was focused on throwing the first pitch for strikes. I didn’t realize how well I was pitching.”
Fego pitched a gem, allowing just three hits and not allowing an earned run, striking out an astounding 14 batters, leading the Vikings to an upset 6-1 win. At the plate, Fego had three hits, including a double, and two RBI.
As the week progressed, Fego’s production at the plate continued. He had two hits, including a double, and four RBI in a win over McNair Academic and against Queen of Peace, a game played on his birthday, Fego blasted a home run, the first of his career.
For his efforts, Fego has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“It was definitely more than what I could have expected,” Fego said. “The homer against Queen of Peace was to centerfi eld (at Rip Collins Field) and it felt pretty good to finally get one.”
Fego doesn’t believe he’s fully recovered from the knee problems.
“I guess I’m about 75 percent,” Fego said. “I’m not at full speed. I was just looking to catch up with what I lost. I defi nitely want to feel good about the way I fi nish this season, feel confi dent going into my senior year.”
Marcantuono is happy that his standout slugger is playing like he knew he could.
“We’re now back to doing normal stuff,” said Marcantuono, who guided the Vikings to three wins in their last five games after a rough start.
“We’re playing much better and of course, a lot of that is because Ryan is playing better. We knew he would turn it around once he got healthy. When he’s in the lineup or on the mound, everyone is feeling pretty good. Even though he’s a junior, he’s shouldered a lot of the load for the team. He’s showed the younger guys the way. He’s truly taken that next step as a leader.”
Marcantuono also praised Fego for trying to play hurt. “He never complained,” Marcantuono said. “He never said anything was bothering him. He just tried to play and hit with one leg. He’s such a team guy that he wanted to play, wanted to do anything to help us.”
Fego loves the game of baseball so much that he hopes that he can play on the collegiate level.
“That’s the goal,” Fego said. “I defi nitely want to try to do that. I just have to continue to work hard and work on staying healthy. I defi nitely don’t want to have the same performance I had at the beginning of this season.”
Fego will continue to play baseball for a town travel team this summer with the hope of getting spotted by some college. At the very least, Fego will have a head start this summer because he will fi nally be healthy. And a healthy Fego can produce a week like the one he enjoyed last week.