Justin Wiltsey admits it. He’s a bit of a clock watcher.
“I wait for 2:30 every day,” the Hamilton West senior said. “I’m like, ‘Man, I can’t wait to get out there and play and get on the field and practice.’ I’m always up and ecstatic. I always have energy no matter what. I just have a really strong passion for the game.”
Lest his teachers fret, however, Wiltsey is paying attention in class.
“Yes I am,” he said. “I got my head in the books.”
He also has his head on straight when it comes to baseball, which is something that the Hornet coaches have harped on for the past several years. Wiltsey had a stellar career for the Hamilton Little Lads and came up with some big performances for the Hamilton Babe Ruth All-Stars. Thus, when he arrived on the Hamilton varsity as a freshman, he expected the success to automatically continue.
“My freshman year I was thinking I was gonna just come out and play the outfield and be a very good pitcher,” Wiltsey said. “I had an attitude that wasn’t successful at all. I realize that now and I’ve definitely matured.”
Wiltsey says it was a matter of evolving.
“It kind of just grew on me,” Wiltsey said. “Once you get older you start to learn stuff and realize enough is enough, and you just have to do what you have to do.”
Coach Mike Moceri, who was an assistant when Wiltsey joined the team, felt he was also given a slight push.
“There were times when he was young, during his freshman and sophomore year, we got on him a little bit,” Moceri said. “I think it finally just sunk in. Last year, this year, he worked his butt off in the offseason in the weight room. He helped get our guys in the weight room. We did harp on it a lot his freshman and sophomore year, and he finally matured and figured it out. You can ask him that too, he’ll be the first one to say it.”
Actually, Wiltsey did not quite agree with that assessment, as he felt he was still figuring it out during his junior season.
“I had a lot of growing to do last year,” he said. “It’s hard when you don’t play that much. Last year I was very immature. I was 16 and I was acting as a child. Eventually when I turned 17 I said ‘Listen, I really want to be a leader.’”
Wiltsey’s growth was apparent within the first week of this season. For the first time, he is being counted on as one of Hamilton’s front line pitchers after compiling a 3-3 record his first three seasons. He was a regular outfielder last year but only hit .226.
Wiltsey got the opening-day call on the mound this year in a big-time situation, as the game was played under the lights on Patriots Night at Veterans Park against archrival Steinert. It was a big crowd, and Wiltsey allowed four runs in one-plus inning as the Hornets fell, 5-3.
“It was our opening game, and especially since it was against Steinert, the blood was flowing, and I was little anxious on the mound,” Wiltsey said. “I was trying to do too much. I just had to throw free and easy.”
But he did collect a double and single at the plate and continued his sweet stroke over the next four games as he was hitting .333 with four runs and two RBI in Hamilton’s 4-1 start. He also came back in his second mound start and allowed two earned runs and struck out eight in four plus innings in a win over Nottingham.
“I wanted to make up for last time,” Wiltsey said. “I wanted to locate better. My offspeed was very good today.”
Most importantly for Hamilton is that Wiltsey did not let his poor opening-night pitching carry over.
“That would have stuck with me last year,” he admitted. “I probably would have gone 0-for-13. It would definitely have carried on for the games after that.”
Wiltsey does not consider himself a pitcher who hits, or a hitter who pitches, saying “I am straight down the middle. You put me out in the outfield I’ll do the job. Put me on the mound I’ll get the job done. Put me at the plate, I’ll get the job done.”
Along with several Hornet teammates, Wiltsey was a key member of last summer’s Broad Street Park team that won the New Jersey American Legion State Championship. His uncle, Joe Wiltsey, was nice enough to help purchase rings for the team, which Justin said, “meant so much to me, that just warmed my heart.”
During the title run, Kyle Harrington (now playing for Post 313 coach Mike Petrowski at Rowan College at Burlington County) put the team on his back, and Wiltsey took notice.
“Kyle Harrington actually showed me what a leader is and what a leader should do,” Wiltsey said. “I basically took that and brought it here. I take that to heart. I love to show my teammates what a leader should be. I feel like I have the emotions and what it takes to do that.”
His words are backed up by his coach and teammate.
“He’s like the big brother in the family,” senior outfielder Bryce Egan said. “He keeps us in check. He just leads us.”
Moceri agreed, saying, “Justin is just a flat out leader. When things aren’t going right, he’s the guy stepping up and kind of taking the role of a coach at times. He’s getting on guys the right way when he needs to. He’s keeping us together. Again, he is a totally different person from when he first started here until now; just the way he carries himself. The kids respect him. That’s what you need from a captain/leader.”
As far as his goals this year, Wiltsey is hoping to bat over .300 out of the clean-up spot, and is looking to win as many starts as possible.
“I knew this year I was gonna have to start working on (pitching) in the off-season,” he said. “I’m throwing a little harder, my slider has a little late action on it, my change is looking nice.”
So is his future, as former Hamilton resident and minor league player Keith Naylor hooked Wiltsey up with New Jersey City State University, which is where he hopes to play next year.
“Keith Naylor actually helped me get into the school,” Wiltsey said. “He knew the coach, called him up, and I went to go see the school. He said he wanted to recruit me. One of the coaches came to the Steinert game. I didn’t pitch that well, but I hit the ball well. They still want me to pitch and play the outfield.”
Considering Wiltsey’s passion for the game, playing college ball will continue to feed his desire. Before that, however, he is anxious to see what this year’s Hornets team can accomplish.
“I’m very excited for the rest of the season,” he said. “We can’t get too high on ourselves; just stay where we need to be and keep working to get the job done.”
And hope that 2:30 doesn’t take too long to arrive.