Considering he stands all of 5-foot-6 and weighs not an ounce over 130 pounds soaking wet, Marist High School senior Mike Malu has heard everything anyone can about a lack of size.
“He’s too small to play…he can’t throw…he has no power, no strength...”
“They say look at that little boy,” Malu said. “They wonder whether the little boy can throw it across the field. They say I can’t throw. I’ve heard it all about a million times. I’ve heard it all my life. I really don’t respond to any of it. I just play.”
In fact, Malu uses all the wisecracks about his size to his advantage.
“It motivates me a lot,” Malu said. “It makes me want to throw the ball harder and faster. It gets me pumped up.”
Marist head baseball coach Ron Hayward vividly recalls the first time he saw the diminutive Malu play.
“It was my first year as a coach here and he was playing Babe Ruth [baseball] in Jersey City,” Hayward said. “Someone told me that Mike was coming to Marist, so I wanted to watch him. I noticed right away that he was small, but then I saw that he could run. I just took him for granted because of his size.”
Then Hayward noticed one thing. He saw Malu throw the baseball.
“He had the strongest arm in the infield,” Hayward said. “It was amazing.”
Malu was a third baseman then and later became a starter at Marist under Hayward, earning a starting nod as a sophomore.
When the 2010 season was about to begin, Hayward had no doubts who would be the one to replace fireball specialist Fabian Roman, a two-time Hudson Reporter All-Area honoree, as the Royal Knights’ ace pitcher. It was going to be Malu.
“I knew it was going to be him,” Hayward said. “I knew that last year when Mike beat [St. Peter’s] Prep that he was going to be our guy this year. I don’t think he ever had pressure that he had to replace Fabian. He just had to be Mike. I saw so much potential, so much upside in Mike. He had a lot of talent.”
At first, Malu thought that he had to be as good as Roman. He basically was trying too hard.
“Because Fabian threw harder, I felt like I had to throw harder,” Malu said. “I wanted to show everyone that I could be just as good as Fabian.”
But it doesn’t work that way. Roman naturally threw in the 92-mile-per-hour range. Although Malu has a strong arm, there aren’t many players his size that can reach that lofty number. Malu was overthrowing and it was costing him.
“I had a really bad game against Union City,” Malu said. “I just felt like I had to do too much. I was overthrowing and it was hurting me. I had to do something to get my confidence level back up. I had to prove that I wasn’t a bad pitcher.”
So once again, Malu was faced with adversity. It was once his physical stature. Now it was his performance level.
“I didn’t have to overthrow to be a successful pitcher,” Malu said. “I had to concentrate on hitting my spots, mixing up my pitches, throwing my curve and changeup with my fastball. I worked on it a lot. Last year, I only pitched once in a blue moon, so this time I had to be ready to pitch full time. I wanted to become the No. 1 pitcher.”
Through it all, Hayward never lost faith.
“I think that the size throws off teams for a while, until they realize that Mike can really throw,” Hayward said. “They then see his intensity and how he comes after people.”
After two solid performances, Malu saved his best for his last start. In facing Kearny last Friday, Malu fired a four-hitter, striking out eight, in leading the Royal Knights to a 6-1 victory. Malu also came up big at the plate, delivering two hits and two RBI in the win. For the week, Malu had six hits in nine at-bats with six RBI.
For his efforts, Malu has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“Now I have my confidence back, so I think I can be better than ever before,” Malu said. “I still love playing the field. It’s not my choice to be a pitcher. But I do whatever I can to help the team. I’m really happy with the way things are going. I feel like I belong now. I feel like a lot of the pressure has been taken off me, because I’ve proven that I can do it.”
Hayward knows that Malu is not just a pitcher. He’s valuable both at the plate and on the mound.
“He’s hitting over .600 and hitting the ball hard,” Hayward said. “He’s batting in the No. 2 hole for us and makes contact all of the time. Not only is he pitching well, but he has one of the highest averages on the team.”
Malu gives a lot of his pitching credit to heralded senior catcher Eddie Sorondo, who has already secured a scholarship to Delaware State, but could very well be selected in the upcoming Major League Baseball free agent amateur draft in June.
“Eddie gives me a very good target back there and keeps me in the game when I’m pitching,” Malu said.
Obviously, other people have taken notice of Malu’s talents. Brookdale Community College in Lincroft, one of the best junior college programs in New Jersey, has been actively recruiting Malu, despite his lack of size.
“I feel like I’ve already committed to Brookdale because the coach wanted me,” Malu said. “Just to be told that he was interested in me made me want to go there.”
“The coaches came to see him play and they said that they love that kind of player,” Hayward said. “Mike first laughed when he heard that they were interested. He didn’t believe it. But it’s a blessing to see him be able to go somewhere and play.”
Hayward said that Malu is a perfect example of what he wants the Marist program to be all about.
“Here’s a kid who came here, worked hard, got to play for three years and turned out to be a great player,” Hayward said. “I think it’s fun. I think it’s great. It’s why I like coaching, because you get to see a kid like this move on. This little kid is going to play college baseball. He’s definitely becoming a very good player.”
“It’s a great feeling that I can do well and help my team,” Malu said.
And as for those doubters who said he could never play because he was tiny?
“I never listened to them before and I don’t listen to them now,” Malu said.
Good plan. – Jim Hague Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.