Cruz settles in behind plate for Winslow Township

Posted: April 21, 2009

When Jeremy Cruz hears people complaining about playing on less-than-manicured fields, he has to laugh. A senior catcher at Winslow Township, Cruz grew up in the Bronx, not far from Yankee Stadium.

When his family moved from the Bronx to South Jersey three years ago, it was an eye-opening experience for Cruz.

"I saw all these fields around here, and I was really impressed," Cruz said. "I think sometimes people take for granted all they have."

He said the few fields in his old New York neighborhood had plenty of flaws.

"There were two parks that had two fields each that weren't in the greatest shape, and that is how it was," he said. "Those parks were always packed, and you barely got games."

In the Bronx, one thing there wasn't a shortage of was top-flight baseball competition. Cruz said he was cut from his high school team, Kennedy High School.

"That are a lot of very good players there," Cruz said. "The competition was unbelievable."

When Cruz first came to Winslow Township as a sophomore, he lined up at shortstop, and it only took one throw over to first base for coach Keith Regn to realize that a position change would be the best move.

Regn immediately converted him to catcher, where Cruz played on the junior varsity as a sophomore. Since the beginning of his junior season, Cruz has been a fixture as the Eagles' starting varsity catcher.

"You always have that one surprise, and he was it," said Regn, whose team is off to a 6-2 start. "The first day of practice I saw him throw the ball from shortstop and asked if he ever caught."

Cruz had little experience before he began catching at Winslow Township.

"I caught three to four games during Little League in the Bronx when our catcher wasn't there," he said.

So there was so much to learn, and Cruz anxiously absorbed the instruction, something that has continued since putting on the catching gear.

One person who has helped Cruz learn the rudiments of catching has been John Oehler, a former Inquirer all-South Jersey catcher from Audubon.

"Just a few times working with him, Jeremy was able to benefit greatly," Regn said.

At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Cruz isn't built like a catcher, but he has wowed people with his arm. He was recently named to the all-tournament team at the Tarboro Easter Classic in North Carolina. Cruz picked seven runners off base, three at first and four at second. He also went 4 for 9 with five RBIs and was named to the all-tournament team.

"My arm felt great," he said.

Cruz has made a commitment to attend Rutgers-Camden.

"They were the ones who approached me first and talked to me about college baseball," he said. "I was hoping to stay close to home, and now that is the plan."

Last season, Cruz earned second-team all-conference honors while batting .290. This season, he has improved offensively, hitting .471 with 11 runs, four doubles, and eight RBIs. And his work behind the plate has also improved.

"I'm still learning so much every day," he said.

Since Cruz is relatively new to the position, Regn feels his best days are clearly ahead.

"I think he is a real steal for Rutgers-Camden," Regn said. "As he fills out and gets more experience, watch out."

Contact staff writer Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com.

|
|
|
|
|