It’s safe to say that Angel Paulino was always destined for greatness on the baseball diamond. From his younger days in Little League to his teenage days playing in several leagues, most notably the Jersey City Recreation Diamond Dawgs program, Paulino was always touted as the next great pitching sensation to come out of Jersey City.
Paulino had the poise, the talent, and the maturity. He had all the necessary tools. When he made his decision to attend St. Mary’s High School in downtown Jersey City in 2008, it was believed to be a major coupe for veteran head coach Pat Laguerre’s program.
Paulino was all set to pitch varsity baseball right away for the Ramblers, but adversity struck. Paulino suffered an elbow injury that curtailed his debut as a hurler. Although Paulino was able to play the field, he wasn’t able to take the mound because of the injury.
“It was hard in the beginning, because I always believed that my best position was as a pitcher,” Paulino said. “I tried to help out my team as much as possible as a player, but it was hard not being able to pitch.”
Paulino did manage to come back last year as a sophomore and pitch successfully for the Ramblers, winning the HCIAA Seglio Division title game, giving St. Mary’s its first Hudson County baseball title in decades.
But Paulino really never lived up to the expectations and the hype that he had coming into high school. He was good a year ago, but wasn’t the super sensation everyone believed he would become.
“He’s a pretty together kid, but I knew he struggled inside, because he knew he was better,” Laguerre said. “But I always had faith in him. Angel’s the kind of kid that you can depend upon to get things done.”
As he entered his junior season, Paulino knew that he had to make a breakthrough.
“They say that your junior year is the most important year and should be the best year,” Paulino said. “So I worked very hard to get ready.”
Throughout the off-season, Paulino worked out with Trevor Reckling, a Newark native who is currently pitching with the Anaheim Angels’ Class AAA affiliate in Salt Lake City.
“We worked out together all winter,” Paulino said. “We worked on arm strength, endurance, conditioning and mechanics.”
Reckling also gave Paulino an interesting conditioning tool.
“We did a lot of swimming,” Paulino said. “It definitely helped build up my arm strength. We went swimming every weekend.”
Paulino said that he also lifted weights with Reckling, all part of the preparation for the season to come.
“I was trying to make sure that this was my best year,” Paulino said.
It is certainly beginning to look that way, because Paulino is finally living up to the huge expectations and pitching like the way everyone thought he would.
Paulino owns a 5-3 record with an earned run average right around 2.00.
“Arguably, with a little bit of luck, he could have been 7-1,” Laguerre said. “He pitched a two-hitter earlier this season and lost. He had one bad inning against Union City and that cost him. But he’s really been dynamite all year. He’s become a bulldog for us.”
Lately, Paulino has been downright brilliant. He had a 17-strikeout performance in a win over Hudson Catholic last Tuesday, firing a four-hitter and last Saturday, he shut the door on Memorial in the opening round of the Hudson County Tournament, leading the Ramblers to a big 18-3 victory, allowing just six hits and striking out nine.
“I tell the kids all the time that those are two big-time programs,” Laguerre said. “Getting 17 strikeouts against anyone is pretty impressive.”
For his efforts, Paulino has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
Laguerre said that Paulino’s personality and persona are two of the main reasons for his success.
“He’s not blessed with the best velocity, but he has great stuff,” Laguerre said. “He has a little different makeup than other kids his age. He’s never afraid to take the ball and just go after people. He’s not going to blow you away, but he’s not afraid to challenge batters in the strike zone and I like that.”
Paulino also has a litany of pitches, using a fastball, curveball, changeup and a slider. Incredibly, Paulino didn’t feel like he had great stuff while warming up to face Hudson Catholic – and still ended up with the performance of a lifetime.
“I started warming up and I just didn’t feel right,” Paulino said. “I didn’t feel like I was at my best. It was a cold, windy day and I didn’t feel like I had any pop with my fastball. But I knew that if I worried about it, I might try to do too much and overthrow. I just kept throwing strikes and getting people out.”
But 17 punch outs?
“I didn’t know I had 17,” Paulino said. “I thought it was much less. I wasn’t paying attention as the game was going on. I just felt this year that I could do more. I gained velocity and strength. The off-season work really helped me a lot. I knew my strikeout-to-walk ratio improved and that all my pitches were working. I can’t say it’s a miracle, but things are going pretty good.”
Paulino will now get the ball again this weekend, when the Ramblers face Ferris in the Hudson County Tournament quarterfinals.
“I want to be the one who has the ball,” Paulino said. “I hope to get the ball in all key situations. I have a lot of friends and former teammates on Ferris and they’re hot right now, so I have to be ready to pitch.”
But if Paulino keeps throwing like he has been, no one is going to beat him.
“He does everything I ask of him,” Laguerre said of Paulino, who is also batting .380 with four homers and 18 RBI as the Ramblers’ cleanup hitter. “I have the utmost confidence in him. He prepares well for every game and he’s ready.”
Added Laguerre, “He’s also a great leader. He’s quiet, but assertive. He commands respect from his teammates without having to say a lot. They all respect him for who he is. When he’s on the mound, we have a good chance to beat anyone.”
Paulino likes that he’s contributing as both a hitter and a pitcher.
“I always want to be considered as a multi-talented player, but I still believe pitching is my strength,” Paulino said. “It always has been. It’s good that I can contribute both ways. But there’s no better feeling when I’m on the mound.”
The proof is in the last two performances.
“And he’s only a junior,” Laguerre said. “You can’t help but be excited about his future. I’m pretty confident now.”
Like Laguerre should be, especially when a pitcher with 17 strikeouts is firing away at the opposition. – Jim Hague Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.