Some baseball players abhor a chest protector, shin guards and mask. But for Danny Melnick, a catcher’s equipment is what lights his fuse.
“Gearing up is my favorite,” Melnick said. “When I put that gear on before the game, it’s just a bunch of adrenaline.”
For the first time in his high school baseball career, he is donning the gear for a hometown team as Melnick is the catcher for Hamilton Post 31 this summer. After starring for Nottingham Little League and Nottingham Babe Ruth, Melnick played four years for Hun, one summer with Princeton Post 76 as a freshman, and two seasons of travel baseball.
But those old Nottingham teammates never left his mind.
“I always thought during my high school career that I wanted to do this my last year with these guys, and it’s so great to be back, honestly,” Melnick said after hitting two doubles and a triple in his Post 31 debut on opening night. “These guys are my best friends. We played Little League together, Babe Ruth together. We went to different high schools, but we’re finally back on the same team for one more summer. I can’t wait.”
Hamilton manager Rick Freeman is pretty excited about it as well.
“He’s been a welcome addition, he gives us a lot behind the plate and at the plate,” Freeman said. “He’s got experience. He’s gonna be a Division I player in college. That gives you the experience our young guys need. He’s a quiet leader. Hopefully he’ll get more vocal as time goes on. But he’s got a presence to him that is impressive.”
Post 31 coach Rich Giallella feels that presence and the way Melnick carries himself has rubbed off on a young team.
“It takes the pressure off the other kids,” Giallella said. “Knowing he’s here, they don’t have to do everything. It becomes a team-oriented game, not an individual game. It makes other guys more aggressive, too. They look at him and say ‘Why is he so aggressive and I’m not?’ and it makes them more aggressive.”
Giallella works with the hitters and said from what he saw in the early going, there wasn’t much to work on with Melnick.
“I don’t know him that well, but I don’t fool with people that are pretty good unless they have a problem,” Giallella said. “He don’t look like he has a problem. What you see is a kid who knows the strike zone, controls the strike zone and is aggressive in the strike zone. When he’s patient he just dictates the at-bat; not the pitcher.
“He looks like an experienced hitter with the discipline and aggressiveness to know how to control the strike zone, whether it’s a curveball, fastball or change-up. He looks like he’s a player. He’s not a real vocal kid but he’s an aggressive, passionate baseball player that likes playing. People like that in the lineup make everybody else better.”
Melnick spent the past four years making his team better at Hun, where he played for a program that won four straight NJISAA Prep A titles and reached the Mercer County Tournament semifinals this spring. Although the Hamilton Square resident missed playing with his childhood buddies, he wouldn’t trade his experience in Princeton for anything.
“It was definitely something different,” Melnick said. “Coming from public school to private school is a tough transition. It was a completely different coaching staff than I was used to and a different kind of style. We got a new coach my sophomore year, a younger guy, and he shaped the program to be really close knit. We all did stuff together on and off the field, and I just loved going to school every day because I knew I’d be with those guys. But it’s definitely cool to be back with these guys, too.”
Melnick had a career average of .342 with 18 RBI and 14 extra-base hits, and hit .342 with 18 RBI and 14 extra base hits as a senior.
“Danny developed himself into a tremendous power hitter, making his presence felt in the middle of our lineup for the past two years,” Hun coach Tom Monfiletto said. “His work ethic is second to none. He can never take enough swings, never misses a workout, and is always trying to improve.”
And that’s only half of Melnick’s story, as his defensive prowess may surpass his offensive talent.
“Pitchers have always loved throwing to him dating back to his freshman year, but he made significant improvements each year to solidify himself as one of the best backstops in the state,” Monfiletto said. “We let him call his own game for the past two years and the results speak for themselves as our team posted a 1.01 ERA this year. He receives and blocks well and this year his arm became a weapon.”
It’s not surprising Melnick handles the position so well, considering how much he enjoys it.
“I just like being in control and commanding the game,” he said. “I like to be involved in every pitch. Sometimes you go to another position and you don’t get a ball for a couple innings. When you finally do it’s just that one and you gotta be ready for it. You have to stay dialed in the whole time.”
Although he has not handled many of Post 31’s pitchers, he liked the staff’s potential from what he saw in the early going.
“I played with Tommy Gater before, he’s been lights out,” Melnick said. “I read a lot about Ryan Beczo, I’m excited to play with him. We’ve got a lot of young guys. They all throw strikes. We’re definitely not gonna overpower a lot of guys but everyone has a lot of good stuff. I think they’re gonna shut some teams down.”
Catcher is a natural leadership position, of course, and that is another area where Melnick excels without actually saying much. His example comes from what he does.
“His commitment and his love for the game and his teammates will leave a lasting impact on our program,” Monfiletto said.
Melnick has just one season to impact Post 31 but the early returns were favorable as Hamilton carried a 5-0 record into its June 13 game with Broad Street Park. He played legion for Princeton as a freshman because Post 76 coach Larry Parker was helping out Hun and needed players in the summer. Melnick and fellow freshman McGwire Tuffy, a Robbinsville resident, decided to participate in order to get regular at-bats.
That was followed by two years of travel ball, which Melnick used to get recruited. As luck would have it, he will continue to be Tuffy’s teammate as he accepted an offer from Quinnipiac shortly after Tuffy did.
“It was pretty much late last summer,” Melnick said. “I went to a showcase and they were there to watch McGwire. I was a catcher, and they needed a catcher. I saw them later in the summer at another camp. I visited a few schools, I kind of fell in love with their school and the coaching staff. I loved the campus, I loved their approach and how they played the game aggressively.”
He will have a brief interruption from being Tuffy’s teammate, as McGwire is playing for Hightstown Post 148 this summer. The trade-off is that Melnick rejoins his childhood friends.
“After last summer, I knew I was gonna go to college, and this would be one last chance to play with all my best friends from Little League and Babe Ruth,” he said. “I grew up with all these guys in Hamilton so I thought for one last summer, make it the best I can. It definitely feels cool. It’s almost like playing for Steinert. The coaching staff has a lot of knowledge. To get coached by them before I go to college is great.”
Freeman feels the same way.
“I think,” he said, “it’s a win-win for everybody.”