The 2021 high school baseball season was all set to begin and Ryan Gill was more than ready.
The Kearny High School junior right hander was hoping to get the ball to start the season against Dickinson of Jersey City – and sure enough, Kearny head coach Dave Smart rewarded Gill with the Opening Day start.
“I was ready to go,” Gill said. “I wanted the ball. All day long, I had the feeling that I would have a good game.”
“We were expecting a lot from him,” Smart said. “I told him that he was going to be a main guy.”
Gill hadn’t heard such words before, considering that his entire sophomore year was wiped away with the COVID-19 pandemic. Gill, a lanky, 6-foot-5 specimen, had always been known for his basketball prowess. But baseball?
“He can move as a shortstop,” Smart said. “He has a big bat. He just never had the chance last year. Freshman year, we wondered what we could do with the kid. He’s a monster, but he can move. He’s a big athletic kid. I figured he could get outs for us.”
But Gill wanted to pitch. He wanted to get the opportunity to show what he could do on the mound right away.
“I knew that I had to take on a bigger role this year, but I encouraged that,” Gill said. “I knew that I had to pick my game up a little and be a bigger leader.”
Now, Smart rewards Gill by giving him the Opening Day start.
Before the game begins, Gill had a positive premonition.
“I was warming up before the game and I just felt like I knew I was going to have a big game,” Gill said. “I just felt great warming up. My arm felt good. I never really thought I could struggle. From the first pitch, I felt zoned in.”
Gill was definitely in the zone. He allowed just one hit and struck out nine. At the plate, Gill had two hits and scored three runs, leading the Kardinals to a 12-2 win in the season opener.
For his efforts, Gill has been named The Observer Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Gill said that he was really looking forward to the start, especially after missing last year with the pandemic.
“Definitely missing last year made me more anxious to play,” Gill said. “I just had more confidence going forward.”
When Gill doesn’t pitch, he will play shortstop, especially when Chris Serrano is on the mound. One way or the other, Gill’s part of the plan moving forward.
Smart likes the way Gill has developed, going from a 5-foot-10 freshman to a 6-foot-5 specimen now.
“I couldn’t believe how big he got so fast,” Smart said. “I asked him, ‘How did you get so tall so fast?’ With that much growth, you might have some awkwardness. But he didn’t have that at all. He’s just a hard worker. He’s equally good as a hitter as he is a pitcher. With games backing up, you need to have kids like him who can throw and then play the next game. If he tells me he’s sore, I won’t throw him out there. I’m not going to ruin him.”
Smart said that he will continue to monitor Gill’s progress throughout the season.
“He’s almost sneaky fast as a pitcher,” Smart said. “The way he whips the ball at you and brings it. Everything he throws moves. He really has developed as a pitcher. I’m just letting him go. I won’t mess with his mechanics. If it’s natural to him, we’ll let him go. I think we always knew that he had it in him. Well, he’s proven it, now he has to do a little more. It’s a nice thing for me.”
While Gill has been good in basketball, he knows where his bread is buttered.
“No question, my focus is baseball,” Gill said. “I want to play baseball in college. But I just want to come out and have fun.”
If Gill has more games like the one he enjoyed last week, he’s going to have tons of fun.
Kearny junior right-handed pitcher/shortstop Ryan Gill. Photo by Jim Hague
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”