Senior Sam Raymond and junior Jimmy Vizzoni transferred from two of the top baseball programs in Mercer County to a school known predominantly for basketball.
They are now doing a good job of letting people know there actually is a baseball team at Trenton Catholic Academy.
Raymond, in his second year with the Iron Mikes after two years with Nottingham, was hitting a team-high .481 with 15 RBI through the first nine games. Vizzoni, who transferred from Steinert at the end of the summer, was hitting .345 with 10 RBI. TCA was 7-2 as of April 19, with its losses both coming by one run to Hunterdon Central and Bordentown, who were a combined 17-1.
“When I was a freshman, I knew Trenton Catholic was a school,” Raymond said. “But no one ever heard of their program except for basketball.”
The irony in that statement is Raymond’s father, Sam, and uncle, Mike, both played for the school when it was known as McCorristin in the mid-1980s. They were, in fact, two of the team’s top hitters back then. His former assistant coach at Nottingham, Thomas Carr, also starred there.
The first baseman discovered the baseball team while playing legion ball for North Hamilton, as manager Fred York had been the Iron Mikes coach before Keith Naylor took over six years ago.
Coming into Nottingham with a prized freshman class in 2015, Raymond was the odd man out when it came to playing time and transferred “for academics and for baseball, I felt I had a better opportunity in both areas.”
Vizzoni, a third baseman, played for Steinert’s freshman team in 9th grade and JV last year. He met Naylor while playing for him in travel ball over the summer, and made the switch because, “I felt like I needed to find something a little different. I felt like I needed a change from Steinert.”
Naylor is happy to have them both, as they came up through the prized Hamilton youth systems. Raymond played for HTRBA from ages 8 to 10, moved to travel ball and came back to Van Horn Field to play all stars his 12-year-old season. He opted to play at Diamond Nation rather than Babe Ruth.
Vizzoni played for Nottingham Little League and Babe Ruth. He was cut from the NLL 12-year-old All Stars and the 13-year-old Babe Ruth All Stars. He made the 14-year-old team but rarely played, and decided to only play in-house as a 15-year-old and just play travel ball rather than all stars.
His disappointments only made him stronger.
“I always had to play with a chip on my shoulder,” Vizzoni said. “I’m not the biggest guy. I was always smaller, I always had to work more. Being cut just really fueled the fire in me to want to get better and improve my game.”
Vizzoni was a pitcher-only (PO) up through age 13, before he met John Sangillo through Nottingham Babe Ruth.
“He really helped transform me from a PO to an infielder,” Vizzoni said. “I met him when I was 14. He’s just really helped me become a better baseball player. He’s helped me with my infield, and especially my hitting. I feel more like a complete player though his help as well as Keith (Naylor); he’s really helped me a lot, too.”
But Naylor, who has worked wonders in reviving a dormant program, has no problem giving Sangillo all the credit.
“Has worked countless hours with him and his swing,” the coach said. “He turned Jimmy around. After one of our games I called him and I said, ‘When I see you I’m gonna give you a big kiss on the cheek, you turned this kid around.’”
Naylor lauded Vizzoni’s work ethic, noting that he will stay after practice for hours just picking the brains of himself and assistant Tremayne Funches.
“Jimmy’s biggest thing was understanding he could be a good hitter,” Naylor said. “He’s always doubted himself. John has worked a lot with him on the mental part of the game and getting him to understand his swing. And every day after practice it’s ‘Hey coach, what do I do with this? Hey coach, what do I do here?’ He just constantly wants to get better as far as mentally, and understanding his swing.”
Vizzoni bats second in the lineup and, aside from just moving runners over, which is a big role in that spot, he gets them over with authority.
“We don’t necessarily have to give up outs with Jimmy,” Naylor said. “He’s hitting it the other way to get guys over, but he’s hitting balls in the gap in right center.”
Vizzoni agreed with his coach that his mental approach and confidence have vastly improved.
“I’m seeing the ball better,” he said. “I feel like every time I get into the batter’s box, no matter what happens, I know I’m putting the ball in play and hitting the ball hard and not focusing on the results. When you’re result oriented that’s when you start to get messed up. You can only control a certain amount of stuff.”
Two spots down in the order is Raymond in the clean-up spot. After hitting .365 for the Mikes last year, he has gotten even better this spring.
“Defensively Sammy’s sound, and offensively he made a few changes and he just clicked; he’s hitting everything hard,” Naylor said. “He’s been getting pitched outside a lot. We tell him ‘Very few people are gonna come inside with you. A, because of your size, and B, as big as you are you have good hands so no one’s gonna bust you inside unless you’re hitting backwards.’ He’s not trying to do too much with the baseball, he’s just hitting it the other way. He has to be ready to hit mistakes. As a four hitter, you don’t hit good pitches, you hit mistakes. He’s been doing that well.”
Raymond has always been confident in his hitting, he just had to change his approach slightly.
“A lot of patience at the plate,” he said. “I see a lot of off-speed and change-ups so I’m just waiting patiently for my pitch. When I get my opportunity I put my best swing into it.”
The transfers not only produce at the plate, but in the dugout as well. Raymond has experienced big games in high school, having been with Nottingham when it reached the Mercer County Tournament finals and won Central Jersey Group III his sophomore year.
“Coming from a team like Nottingham that won, I kind of knew what the next level was,” he said. “Knowing that in the big games, the finals and semifinals, what I’ve been talking about is that you not put yourself first but the team first. You need to hit a sac fly or hit the ball to the right side of the field to get the run in.”
Naylor feels Raymond is getting his point across, saying, “All these kids look up to Sammy. Sammy is a kid who says very few words. But he leads by example He’s the first one here, last one to leave. He’s making sure the kids do everything they’re supposed to do.”
“Sam’s a great guy and a great teammate,” Vizzoni said. “He’s someone you know will get the job done. He’s very reliable as a player and a teammate.”
Vizzoni’s roots were with one of the county’s most consistently winning teams, and he also takes his turn leading.
“I’m not the kind of guy that goes crazy all the time, but when I need to, I’ll pick it up a notch,” he said. “I played travel ball all summer with these guys, I’m friends with them. If I have to step up and play that role I’m fine with it.”
As for the attitude he brought from Steinert, it was, “Always go 110 percent; no days off. You always play hard.”
The entire Mikes team has been playing hard and hopes it pays off in May. Last year TCA went 14-8 but lost in the first round of the MCT and second round of the states. This year its loss to Bordentown was in the second round of the Burlington County Tournament, but the Mikes are hoping for better results in the MCT and states.
“It would be a huge deal to win counties,” Vizzoni said. “We want to win that really badly. I think we just came out flat last year.”
“If we stay focused and play naturally and play our positions, we’ll be fine,” Raymond said. “The bats, the defense, the pitching all have to come through. You can’t have one over the other. I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do.”