By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Before the current high school baseball season began last month, Lyndhurst High School senior Max Hart was just hoping to have saved his best for last.
“I really wanted to do something special, since this is my last year,” said Hart, one of four senior captains on the Golden Bears’ roster. “I think I played my best last year, but the team really didn’t need me that much. But this year, I knew they would need me, so I had to really step up.”
Hart said that he worked diligently in the off-season, preparing for his senior campaign.
“I did a lot of work in the weight room,” Hart said. “I did a lot of band work to stretch my arm and keep my arm in shape. I knew I had to play my best this year.”
Lyndhurst head coach and athletic director Butch Servideo was hopeful that Hart could lead the way for the Golden Bears, who lost a ton of talented players to graduation last June.
“I thought he might become our No. 1 pitcher, but in our practice training week in Florida, Max threw just two innings and threw 16 pitches,” Servideo said. “He then said, ‘Coach, my arm hurts.’ I had to shut him down for the rest of the trip and the rest of spring training. I wasn’t going to risk him getting hurt more.”
So Hart was limited to just playing first base as the season began April 1.
“He then told me that his arm was feeling pretty good and that he could give it a go,” Servideo said. “Since that point, he’s exceeded every expectation we had for him.”
Hart has become the top pitcher that Servideo envisioned.
“Max has pitched against all the big league teams and won,” Servideo said.
Hart has a perfect 5-0 record with wins against NJIC Meadowlands competitors like Harrison, Ridgefield, Ridgefield Park and New Milford.
Hart has also been a terror at the plate. Hart has a batting average above .500 with two homers, four doubles, a triple and 18 RBI, batting in the third slot for the Golden Bears.
More importantly, Hart has helped the Golden Bears reel off 12 straight wins after a 1-2 start.
“I was hoping we could stay under the radar for a little while longer,” Servideo said.
Not when your star pitcher/ hitter is having the season of a lifetime.
For his efforts, Hart has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“He’s been absolutely mashing the ball,” Servideo said. “Everything he hits, he hits hard. I don’t want to put the jinx on him. But he’s been one of our surprises on a team of surprises.”
Hart always believed in his own abilities. As a pitcher, Hart has all the tools. He stands 6-foot-3 and has very large hands, so he can grip a baseball with ease.
“I know I’m better this year,” Hart said. “It’s the best I’ve played on any level in my life. But I put the work in. I’m not surprised with how I’ve pitched.”
However, Hart’s batting average, which is outstanding, has to shock him just a little.
“Yeah, I’m a little surprised by that,” Hart said. “I think I’m keeping my hands back better. In the past, I wanted to be a power hitter and try to hit home runs. But now, I’m concentrating on putting the ball in play and hitting it hard every time up. That has really worked out well for me. I’m also able to sit back on curveballs and drive them the other way. I think I have about seven or eight hits off curveballs this year.”
Servideo knows that Hart can throw the ball hard.
“We’re working on his curve, which is a little inconsistent,” Servideo said. “There are times he throws the curve and it just drops like two feet. But we need more of that from him. But Max is a hard thrower.”
If there is one aspect to Hart’s pitching prowess, it’s his needed rest between starts.
“Some kids can come back after four days,” Servideo said. “Max needs a little more rest. We’re not pushing him at all. Nothing is going to change. Max will throw anywhere between 85-to-100 pitches and then he comes out. But sometimes, he’s still able to throw complete games.”
Needless to say, Hart is pleased about the way his senior season is going. He’s winning and the Golden Bears are winning. He’s hitting the ball with authority. Life is certainly good.
“I didn’t expect any of this,” Hart said. “It’s exciting to be this good. I just want to keep it going. I have to keep working, keep working hard. I think everyone has the right mindset right now. Everyone is playing above what they thought they could. Everyone has stepped up. It’s been great.”
Hart is still undecided about his college plans. He wants to play baseball in college and is hoping that his hot pitching/hitting streak will garner some attention from local colleges.
“That’s my goal, to get to college and play there,” Hart said.
Whatever happens, Servideo loves the way Hart has become a force.
“As a pitcher, he throws hard and down, which are both good things,” Servideo said. “And as a hitter, he’s done more than we could have imagined. When he’s on, he’s a very good player. Without a doubt, he’s definitely been a big surprise.”