Jon Hayden sees himself as a catalyst for the Princeton Post 218 American Legion baseball team.
“I like to try to get people pumped up in the game,” said centerfielder Hayden, who recently graduated from the Lawrenceville School. “I talk a lot and I try to make sure that people are ready to go. I try to ignite the flame a little.”
Last week, with Post 218 trailing Robbinsville Post 530 2-0 heading into the bottom of the fourth inning, Hayden sparked Princeton as he cracked a towering double to the left field fence at Smoyer Park. Hayden scored and Post 218 had knotted the game at 2-2 by the end of the frame.
“He threw me a lot of curve balls in my first at bat,” said Hayden, reflecting on his double.
“I was just trying to sit back on whatever the off-speed pitch which was a curve ball and try to take it the other way instead of pulling my head out and trying to yank one down the first base line.”
Princeton fell behind 3-2 and then the game was suspended due to a
cloudburst. The teams met again last Monday to finish last week’s game and to play a regularly scheduled contest. Post 218 rallied for two late runs to win the resumed game 4-3 and then proceeded to top Robbinsville 10-3 to improve to 11-10 on the summer.
The two-win evening put Princeton in a tie with Ewing for sixth place in the Mercer County American Legion League (MCALL) standings and the final spot in the upcoming District tournament.
With Post 218 having never qualified for postseason play in its history, Hayden and his teammates are excited to be in the playoff chase.
“Last year, we were out of it pretty early but we still played hard,” said Hayden.
“This year we have even more of an incentive to play hard baseball. And we have hung with all of the best teams in the league so we know if we play hard and hit the ball hard, we have a chance against anybody in this league.”
The Post 218 mound staff of Rohit Chawla, Jacob Eisenberg, Mike Dunlap, and Andrew Frain has given the team a chance every time it takes the field.
“I can’t stress enough how good our pitching has been this year, they keep us in every single game,” said Hayden.
“Then it is up to us hitters to just do a little bit and put a couple of runs on the board because we know that our pitching is going to hold them down every single game.”
Hayden fine-tuned his hitting over the last year, enjoying a big spring in his final season for Lawrenceville and carrying over that production for Post 218.
“I changed a lot of stuff late last summer and then I tried to pick up from there during the Lawrenceville season and it turned out pretty well,” said Hayden, who is heading to Johns Hopkins this fall where he will be playing for the school’s baseball team.
“I changed my batting stance a little; I widened my stance and made sure I was more balanced because I was out in front a lot in junior season. I sit back and try to take more balls to left center than right center.”
Post 218 manager Tommy Parker likes his squad’s balance and upbeat mentality.
“I would say these guys have been pretty resilient throughout the season and they came back today,” said Parker.
“I can’t talk enough about this combination of kids. We have a youth movement, we have senior leadership, and we have some of the best pitching in the league. Everyone has been excited this season about playing. Everybody has contributed, no deer in the headlights moments. The young guys step up like they have been playing for a few seasons up here. They are not intimidated; they have good on-field presence.”
Hayden’s presence has been a real plus for Princeton. “Jon is a quiet leader,” said Parker.
“He goes out there, he is real enthusiastic. He gets the guys up. I like what he has done and what Jess [Russo] and Ian [Naccarella] has done. They mentor to the younger guys.”
Parker shares his players’ enthusiasm over their bid for a playoff berth. “It is a good feeling; it has been a lot of years since we have had a team that has been close enough to the playoffs that you can touch it,” said Parker.
“You remember our 15-12 season, we missed the playoffs on the last day of the season. I want to push these guys to make the playoffs. It has been a total team effort.”
Hayden, for his part, believes the team will push to the end. “We have a lot of heart on our team; everyone really loves the sport of baseball,” said Hayden. “We all go out there everyday trying to do what we can to get a win.”