There’s always an aura, a mystique about being an NCAA Division I athlete. The title is worn like a badge of honor. It’s almost like an actor who wins an Oscar, who forever is known as “Academy Award winner,” mentioned before his or her name.
After you receive a D-I scholarship, it follows you every time you take the field or the court. “Look at him, he’s D-I,” is readily heard. It makes you the center of attention.
A.J. Gale is aware of all of that. The North Bergen senior has earned that distinction. He’s D-I, through and through, having already signed a national letter of intent to attend St. John’s University in the fall. Gale will pitch for the Red Storm, owning a talented right arm that has earned him a scholarship to play college baseball.
“There’s definitely pressure being a D-I athlete,” North Bergen head baseball coach Patrick Brady said. “Teams want to beat him because he’s D-I.”
But Gale hasn’t allowed the tag to deter his ability on the mound.
“I definitely try to block all of that out,” Gale said. “I’m not one who looks for attention. But it’s nice that I have that title. I always dreamed of becoming a D-I player, so I do enjoy that title and the notoriety that comes with it.”
In the opening week of the baseball season, Gale has shown no signs of any pressure that comes with being a scholarship athlete.
In fact, it almost looks as if Gale is thriving after signing the letter.
Gale has earned victories in both of his appearances last week, having defeated Robert Boyd of West Virginia in the Mingo Bay Tournament in Myrtle Beach, SC and local rival Memorial. In the two games, Gale did not allow an earned run, striking out 22 and walking just four.
For his efforts, Gale has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week. Gale is the first honoree in the spring sports season.
Brady feels that Gale is a much better pitcher than he was last year when he earned Hudson Reporter All-Area honors.
“A.J’s poise and mental toughness is far advanced than other players his age,” Brady said. “He’s a student of the game and studies the game, both mentally and physically. He’s definitely a better pitcher than he was last year, because he’s throwing strikes. He tweaked his mechanics a little. He’s only walked four batters. He would become a little erratic at times last year, but he has his control down. He’s throwing all three of his pitches for strikes. He’s in control.”
Gale said his father, long-time North Bergen youth league coach Andy, gave him a tip before this season began.
“He let me in on a little secret,” the younger Gale said. “He told me that I didn’t have to strike everyone out. That’s what I used to do. I went out there to try to strike everyone out. But my Dad said that I could make a better pitch, force the batter to hit into a double play and I could get two outs with one pitch instead of striking out someone with nine pitches. I just needed to make a good pitch. It’s made a big difference in me. I’ve become more of a pitcher. I don’t try to overpower everyone now. I just need to throw strikes and have a lower pitch count.”
Gale realizes that his composure on the mound has been his key to success.
“It’s most definitely my best quality,” Gale said. “My composure helps all parts of my game. If someone makes an error, I shake it off and tell my teammate I’ll get the next one. I always have a positive attitude.”
Brady knows that Gale has incredible potential.
“I feel he’s one of the best pitchers in the county, even in the state,” Brady said. “I know what he’s capable of doing. He’s just starting to reach his potential. The sky’s the limit with A.J. He’s also one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever seen. His mental toughness and poise are second to none. He wants the ball. He wants to win. Since I’ve been here, he’s the toughest competitor we’ve had.”
Although Gale has already signed with St. John’s, he is still getting attention from the professional scouts, who may just deem him ready for the Major League Baseball amateur free agent draft in June.
“It’s also something I’ve dreamed about, pitching in the major leagues,” Gale said. “It’s flattering to receive [business] cards from the Phillies, Rangers, Nationals. My goal is to make it through this season and college as well. But if I hear my name called [in the draft], that would be one of the best feelings in the world.”
The season is only a week old, but Gale has already made sure that he’s lived up to the name that follows him everywhere.
“He’s just scratching the surface,” Brady said. “There’s no limit to how good he can be.”
There is one side of Gale’s game that has disappeared.
“The bat has been taken out of his hands,” said Brady, meaning that Gale doesn’t bat anymore. “He knows his future is as a pitcher.”
“Anything to help the team,” Gale said. “We have a special team that can go a long way. We’re like a family and we’re all bringing it together. If Coach [Brady] thinks I shouldn’t hit, then that’s fine. It’s not a necessity. We have a great team. It’s not just pitching.”
However, with A.J. Gale on the mound, it’s not a bad place to start. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.