August 12, 2020

Learning from Rocky Debut for TCNJ Baseball,PHS Grad Amon Armed for Success on the Mound

LION-HEARTED: Ben Amon fires a pitch this spring in his freshman season for The College of New Jersey baseball team. Amon, a former Princeton High standout, posted a 0-1 record in two starts for the Lions, piling up 16 strikeouts in 14 innings with a 3.21 ERA before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo provided courtesy of TCNJ Athletic Communications)

By Bill Alden

Ben Amon experienced a baptism of fire in his first start on the mound for The College of New Jersey baseball team.

Former Princeton High star Amon gave up five runs in the first inning at Ursinus as he made his college debut on March 4.

“That was 100 percent a great learning experience; I went out in the first inning having the same mindset as in high school ball,” said Amon, reflecting on the rocky start.

“I thought I could just throw my stuff and it will be good enough to get them out. I quickly learned in that first inning that wasn’t going to be the case.”

Settling down after that early barrage which saw Ursinus bang out five hits, including a two-run homer, Amon yielded only two hits and picked up six strikeouts over the next six innings as TCNJ fell 5-3.

“Instead of trying to ramp up my energy and velocity,  I really focused on just hitting the spots, trusting my stuff and going along with coach’s [Dean Glus] calls,” said the 6’5, 150-pound right-hander Amon.

“He calls everything and it worked out a lot better in the second start.”

In his second start five days later, Amon was a lot better, going seven innings with 10 strikeouts and no earned runs  as the Lions pulled out an 8-7 win in 10 innings over Gwynedd Mercy.

“I definitely came out with the mentality that it is me versus you and I am going to beat you at your game,” said Amon.

“Just talking to the coaches
after that start they helped me get it out of my head. They said it is your first inning, you can’t do anything about it. You got to make the pitches that we all know you can make. It felt 100 times more comfortable in the second start. It was a confidence builder, just having the support of all 33 guys on the team and those senior starting pitchers having my back and cheering me on. It really helped.”

But Amon didn’t get the chance to keep building confidence over the rest of spring as the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic after the Gwynedd Mercy game.

“We were on the bus to Florida for a spring break trip,” recalled Amon.

“When we got to the Florida border, we got a call from our athletic director,
telling us that the season was canceled. It was a 33-hour ride total because we never reached our destination so that was a bummer. I think everybody kind of rallied and we made the best of that bus ride.”

Looking back on his journey to college baseball, Amon concluded that Division III powerhouse TCNJ was the best fit for him.

“It had to do with location, I love having my parents at the games,” said Amon, who also looked at such Patriot League schools as Holy Cross and Lafayette in his recruiting process.

“The program had been very successful the past few years. I knew coming in that I would have a chance to show what I have got and to perform right away. At some of the bigger schools, I would not be playing much in my first year.”

As Amon got his first taste of fall ball, he enjoyed the chance to bond with the team’s veteran players.

“I was welcomed to the tradition of excellence; they have two of their last three NJAC (New Jersey Athletic Conference) titles,” said Amon.

“The seniors took me under their wing. We had practices four times a week and lifting in the morning twice a week and then you have to get your third day in whenever you can. We would scrimmage each other and then we scrimmaged
Princeton in a two-game series which was really fun getting to play another team.”

Amon credited PHS coaches, Dom Capuano and Dave Roberts, with helping him to get ready for the challenges he faced at the college level.

“Coach Capuano took over the program my senior year, he also played at TCNJ, and coach Roberts experienced college baseball,” said Amon.

“Having them be able to tell me what goes on really helped me prepare for the season. I worked hard in the summer to keep my arm in shape and get ready for the fall season.”

Working with TCNJ head coach Glus has helped Amon get the most out of his arm.

“When we first started, I felt more healthy than I have ever felt leading into the season,” said Amon.

“It has to do with coach Glus’ philosophy and ideals for throwing. He was a pitcher at West Virginia and he has this really good throwing program that gets your arm back in shape. So coming out, I felt super good. I knew if I was throwing well in practice and hitting my spots and doing everything I could well, I would get a chance to start.”

In reflecting on what it takes to succeed in college ball, Amon knows he can’t just rely on his stuff.

“You just have to keep in mind that even the seven-eight-nine guys in college were probably three-four-five guys in high school,” explained Amon.

“There are no easy outs really. You have to think next pitch, next batter. If anything happens, you have to put it behind you and just focus all of your energy on the batter and trust your stuff. Your coaches will build up your confidence. Your catcher will build you up and you just have to throw your pitches.”

Over the abbreviated season, Amon was able to expand his pitching repertoire.

“I have been sticking with my four-seam and two-seam fastball, my curve ball and my changeup,” said Amon, who ended up with 16 strikeouts in 14 innings and a 3.21 ERA in his debut campaign.

“You pick the seniors’ brains, trying to figure it out. One of aces last year, Peter Nielsen, had a really great changeup so it is just fiddling with that, trying out new grips. My velocity range in my last start was up to 88.”

After the season was halted, Amon and his teammates stayed in touch virtually.

“We were having Zoom calls bi-weekly, just talking about what is happening right now and what is going to happen in the fall and how we are going to go about that,” said Amon.

“We had a couple of Zoom calls to talk to each other and see how everybody is doing.”

Working out at home, Amon was able to do things to keep himself sharp physically.

“Our strength and conditioning coach sent out guides, it is all stuff you can do without weights, benches or squat racks,” added Amon, who will have to keep training that way as TCNJ canceled all fall sports and is having remote-only classes for the upcoming semester.

“That has been really helpful, having a plan to what you do. I have also been throwing with Alec Silverman (former PHS catcher).”

Even though Amon has only two college starts under his belt, he feels that gives him plenty to build on going forward.

“Having some game experience is very valuable,” said Amon, who is getting experience this summer pitching for the New Brunswick Matrix of the ABCCL (Atlantic Baseball Confederation College League) where he was tied for third in the league in strikeouts with 30 Ks in 22 innings pitched.

“Having the first inning against Ursinus out of the way, you have that mentality that you have been there before and that you have prepared for this. You have a good start under your belt and you need to continue on that same track.”

In Amon’s view, TCNJ is on track for some big things when it gets back on the diamond.

“I think more than anything, our team is going to be bonded closer,” said Amon.

“A bunch of guys on the team have been talking and I think we are going to be an even stronger group next year with the mentality that every game could be our last together and just play 110 percent for the whole season. We are going to have a really good team next year and I think we are going to have a strong season.”