As he entered his senior year at Lyndhurst High School, Nick Carnevale knew that he had to make some major changes in his athletic life.
So Carnevale decided to quit playing hockey for the Golden Bears and concentrate on his main sport, namely baseball.
“When I was a sophomore in high school, I started to go to a lot of these baseball showcases,” Carnevale said. “I wanted to be ready to be able to play at a high level. So I knew I had to give up playing hockey in the winter. I had to become 100 percent committed to baseball.”
It wasn’t exactly the news that hockey coach Denis Jelcic wanted to hear, but Carnevale knew it was the right move, especially since the high school hockey season runs a little long in New Jersey and the Golden Bears’ hockey cooperative with Hackensack and Paramus wouldn’t be finished in time for the first practices for the 2017 baseball season.
Carnevale knew that his bread and butter is baseball, so the skates, pucks and sticks were put in the closet.
Carnevale also knew that he had to make a decision about college _ and knew that involved playing baseball on the next level.
“I actually told him to keep playing hockey,” Lyndhurst head baseball coach Pat Auteri said. “I thought it would keep his legs in shape throughout the fall and winter months. I thought it would help if he went after it. But he made the decision to give it up. He has tremendous work ethic, playing travel baseball in the offseason and playing hockey.”
Carnevale was more than ready for the start of the baseball season, despite the wicked weather everyone experienced in the months prior to the first pitch.
“No question, he was in good shape,” Auteri said. “I talked to him at the end of last season and told him that we were losing a lot of leadership to graduation. I didn’t want to put too much pressure on him. But he was our top hitter coming back and I wanted him to be the team’s leader both on and off the field.”
A lot of kids might have cowered and shied away from such responsibilities. Not Carnevale.
“He actually embraced it,” Auteri said. “He led us with all the offseason stuff, like getting in the weight room and doing conditioning. He was the one who I counted on to make sure the rest of the guys were doing their workouts. He was the guy I leaned on. He was one of the captains, but I knew he had the capabilities of being a leader. He wasn’t just our top guy with the bat.”
Carnevale realized that he had to take the bull by the horns and lead the way for the Golden Bears.
“I think I knew that if we started off strong, if we played well from the beginning, that good things would come for the rest of the season,” Carnevale said. “Most of these guys have been playing together since we were 11 years old. So I knew them and knew that we had to come out big.”
Carnevale said that he had a good feeling about the Golden Bears’ offense, especially since they had Isaiah Figueroa hitting in front of him and Ryan Donohue batting behind him in the lineup.
“I knew that I would get some good pitches to hit this year,” Carnevale said.
But no one could have predicted the blazing start that the senior shortstop Carnevale has produced.
Last week, Carnevale had a five-game stretch that most high school players simply dream about.
Carnevale started the week with three hits, including a home run and a double, in three at-bats and five RBI in a win over Queen of Peace. He then had three hits in three at-bats and an RBI against Wood-Ridge, had two hits in three plate appearances and scored three runs with an RBI against Waldwick.
Continuing his torrid streak, Carnevale had two hits in five at-bats, including a triple, had an RBI and scored two runs against Bergen Charter.
So to sum it up, Carnevale had 10 hits in 14 at-bats (a .714 clip), scored eight runs, had eight RBI and recorded eight stolen bases with double, triple and homer. That’s some week.
For his efforts, Carnevale has been selected as The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“I knew I had it in me,” Carnevale said. “I worked hard to get ready for the season.”
Carnevale said that the team’s preseason trip to Florida for a few exhibition games really helped his play and the rest of the Golden Bears.
“When we went to Florida, it helped a lot,” Carnevale said. “So as soon as we got back, I think we were all ready to hit the ball. I’ve been lucky enough to see a lot of fastballs with the teammates I have around me. If I see a fastball, I’m going to hit it.”
“You could see that going to Florida helped these kids,” Auteri said. “They were ahead of the game. We got to see some good pitching down there, but our kids were ready. It was all about patience with Nick. Very rarely do you see him swing at a bad pitch. He takes his walks and gets on base. He doesn’t strike out often. He’s seeing the ball well.”
Carnevale was asked what the torrid start is going to do.
“It really helps my confidence,” Carnevale said. “I know I’m not going to strike out. It feels good going to the plate. I’m not going to fail.”
“His bat was the one we had coming back,” Auteri said. “He had to carry the load a little for us. I’m not surprised with what he’s done. He’s a good hitter.”
Carnevale has already given a verbal commitment to Brookdale Junior College in Lincroft, N.J. to play baseball there in the fall.
“I got some (NCAA) Division I looks, but no scholarships,” Carnevale said. “So I chose the JUCO (junior college) route to see if I have a chance to get a college scholarship that way. I’m excited to be going there. I just have to keep doing what I’m doing. I think I can keep it up.”
“He’s a great kid with a great personality and a great work ethic,” Auteri said. “His teammates love playing with him. He’s intense on the field. He’s a vocal guy who is always so upbeat, so happy-go-lucky. He plays every day like most kids play when they’re in Little League, just excited to be out there and playing the game he loves to play.”
Lyndhurst senior shortstop Nick Carnevale. Photo by Jim Hague