Before the current high school baseball season began, David Duran was just a bit skeptical. After all, Duran is a freshman at Kearny High School and freshmen very rarely play varsity baseball. They usually have to fine tune their talents for at least a year with the sub-varsity, namely the freshman and junior varsity teams.
“I was willing to do whatever was best for the team,” said the 14-year-old Duran.
But first-year Kearny head coach Dave Smart had another thing in mind, even going back to last year, when Duran was still in elementary school.
“He had the mental toughness that you just don’t see every day,” Smart said. “I was at one of the middle school team’s practices and I saw him go back on a fly ball that I didn’t think he had a chance to catch. He then ran it down, then turned a fired a bullet back into the infield. I said to Mr. (Doug) Gogal (one of the Kearny High assistant coaches), ‘That kid’s going to be with us next year.’ I knew he was something special.”
Smart never told Duran that he would be a varsity player as a freshman.
“I never gave him any inkling,” Smart said. “But I just knew it. He brought that old school mentality.”
When the first day of tryouts began, Duran did something that caught the coaches’ eyes.
“He sprinted out to his position,” Smart said. “Other kids just run. David sprinted hard.”
“I just came out and did what I usually do,” Duran said. “I figured I might be able to make the varsity if I play like I always do. I didn’t know if I would play or not. It would have been fine with me if I sat the bench. I just like being around baseball.”
Duran already had proof that he could withstand the pressures of being a freshman playing varsity. After all, Duran was a member of the Kearny wrestling team during the winter months and had a successful debut, winning 24 matches as a rookie, giving new head coach Brian McDonnell some promise for the years to come.
“Wrestling keeps me in shape for baseball,” Duran said. “It gets me stronger and quicker for the baseball season. Wrestling kept me competitive and in shape and everything.”
And while Duran enjoys being on the mat, baseball is his love.
“I love playing baseball,” Duran said. “Right now, I’d have to say I love baseball more. It’s my best game.”
Duran said that his natural position was always the middle infield, either second base or shortstop. But if you’re trying to make an impression on the coach to try to earn a position on the field, you’ll play anywhere. Duran quickly became an outfielder.
“I like playing infield better than the outfield, but I’m a quick learner,” Duran said. “I always played shortstop, but it’s not that important. Whatever’s best for the team.”
For the time being, Smart had Duran in centerfield.
“The kid has a lot of talent,” Smart said. “He’s one of the hardest workers on the team. Others have picked up from him.”
For example, the Kardinals now sprint on and off the field.
“The other kids are actually following that now,” Smart said. “David just works hard because he wants to get better. He’s hungry and wants to improve.”
Smart was a tad skeptical about one facet of Duran’s game.
“I was a little bit concerned about whether he could handle hitting varsity pitching,” Smart said. “I wondered if he could hit the pitching, the big time breaking pitches, whether he could handle the change in velocity.”
Apparently, there was no worry at all.
“The next thing you know, he’s in our leadoff spot and doing very well,” Smart said.
Well, over the last week, Duran has collected 13 hits in 22 at-bats, a .591 clip. He had three hits each in games against Hoboken, University Charter and Lincoln, all three of which were Kearny victories. Duran had eight RBI and eight runs scored. He added five stolen bases and two doubles.
And for his efforts, the freshman sensation has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Smart said that he hasn’t second guessed the move of putting Duran at the top of his batting order.
“He started off the season at second base, but then we moved him to the outfield and moved him up and down the batting order,” Smart said. “He just keeps rising to the occasion. I haven’t regretted it one bit. He can move. He’s probably the quickest guy on the team. He also extremely coachable. I show him something once and there’s no need to show him again.”
Added Smart, “He’s only 5-foot-7, but he’s a physically strong kid. Because he’s such a young freshman, I’d say he’s going to grow some more.”
Duran is just having the time of his young life.
“I love playing baseball,” said Duran, who has a .415 batting average with 10 RBI and 10 runs scored for the season. “It’s great to know I have three more years to play.”
“I’d take nine more like him,” Smart said. “He’s a great kid. He’s always happy, always smiling. He wants the ball hit to him and I always hope that it is hit to him.”
More importantly, Duran is a good student with his eye on the prize.
“I’d say he has a good chance to get a college education,” Smart said.
“It’s down the road a little, but I do think about that,” Duran said of college. “It’s never too early to think about it.”
Duran is taking after his coach literally _ as a Smart man.
Kearny freshman outfielder David Duran. Photo by Jim Hague