"My Dad always said practice hard and dream," Julian Diaz said. "He reminded me of that every time I stepped on a baseball field, even when I was little. It was always in my head."
Diaz was constantly reminded of this as he moved up the baseball ranks, from Little League to youth baseball and finally at North Bergen High School, where he has been a standout pitcher for the last two years.
Diaz first attended Hudson Catholic in Jersey City as a freshman, and then transferred to North Bergen to begin his sophomore year. But Diaz suffered a broken forearm after getting hit with a pitch in a preseason scrimmage, ending his season before it officially began.
Last year, in his first full varsity season with the Bruins, Diaz stood out as the team's top pitcher. He won five games, posting an earned run average of 1.90 and leading the team in strikeouts with 97.
During the summer months, Diaz traveled to a host of different talent showcases all over the country, hoping that a college scout would recognize his talents and offer a scholarship.
"I definitely wanted to play college baseball in general, but the ultimate dream would have been to get a [NCAA] Division I scholarship," Diaz said. "So I knew I had to go to those showcases and tournaments to get noticed."
Diaz attended one showcase in Jupiter, Fla. It was there that he was spotted by Long Island University head coach Don Maines.
Maines was able to fulfill Diaz' dreams by offering the talented right-hander a full scholarship.
"It really is a dream come true," Diaz said. "Not many kids from North Bergen get a chance to get a baseball scholarship."
One of only two
In fact, before Diaz' former teammate Gabe Ramirez signed with Grambling University last year, there hadn't been a North Bergen High School student to earn a baseball scholarship in almost 30 years.
Now, Diaz makes it two in two years. He signed his national letter of intent with LIU last week and will attend the school in the fall.
"I liked the program and the coaches were very nice to me, right from the start," Diaz said. "Plus, they have my major [Diaz wants to major in physical therapy in college]. It's definitely an honor for me to get the opportunity. I'm raring to go."
But Diaz still has this coming baseball season to worry about. Practice begins officially over the weekend and the season begins the first week of April.
"But now, I don't have to worry about who's watching me every time I go out to pitch," Diaz said. "It's good not to have those pressures for my senior year. I can relax a little not feeling the pressure."
North Bergen head baseball coach Pat Brady was overjoyed to hear that Diaz was offered the scholarship.
"Jules is just a tremendous individual," Brady said. "He's a tremendous athlete, but an even nicer kid. He's a tireless worker and you can just see it by the way he carries himself off the field. Everything he's earned in his life, he's deserved because of his work ethic."
Brady loves the intangibles that Diaz brings to the North Bergen baseball program.
"He's always working with the younger kids and helping them get better," Brady said. "He's like a coach on the field. It's a tremendous asset to have. I'm going to enjoy this season with him, because I'm definitely going to miss him."
Diaz knows that he will be wearing a bulls' eye this season as the Bruins' top returning ace, now with the reputation of being a Division I product.
"I'm ready for the challenge," Diaz said. "It's going to be a fun season. I know people are going to want to come after me now. I can handle it."
As for his father's motto?
"I guess he was right," Diaz said. "The hard work definitely paid off."
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at either OGSMAR@aol.com or firstname.lastname@example.org