Jacob Lafferty has been playing baseball for as long as he can remember, and on every team no matter the level there was at least one player whom he could look up to.
This year, the Newark senior is the player everyone else is looking up to because the Yellowjackets are in the middle of a youth movement. Newark’s varsity roster is made up of seven freshman and includes just five upperclassmen.
“We’ve had a very high number of freshman come out for baseball in the past two years, including this year,” head coach Jason Bedford said. “Due to some cuts in the past, we were faced with having only five upperclassmen this year and had to make some tough decisions to give our varsity program a boost. Although we know that this year will be challenging, it was in the best interest to go full on with this freshman class being placed on our varsity and take all the lumps and challenges together.”
The team has taken its lumps. Heading into spring break, Newark’s lone win was a 6-4 decision over Delcastle High School. The Yellowjackets have scored just six runs in its seven losses, and given up 10 or more in five of them. Despite the lack of success, Bedford remains optimistic.
“It took a few weeks for them to understand that we may not win many games, but we are not playing for a record this year,” he explained of the strategy. “Instead, we are playing to get better at each plate appearance, each ground ball chance and each pitch that is made.”
That’s where Lafferty comes in. He has been in the program all four years, earning his first varsity letter last year as a junior. He brings to the field each day a wealth of baseball knowledge, and more importantly for this squad, qualities that have nothing to do with the sport itself.
“Experience and leadership help create a good foundation for the younger kids to build off of and helps with the overall energy of the team,” Lafferty said of what he feels he brings to the program.
Bedford has come to rely on Lafferty’s unselfishness as Newark rebuilds.
“Jacob has always been and continues to be someone that I can depend on to do whatever it is that the team needs,” Bedford said. “Whether it be pitch in a game for an inning, play centerfield, bat anywhere in the lineup or be the support system on the bench, his role is never defined until he is needed and he does it all without saying anything to me about it.”
Freshmen Austin Calabrese, Tyler Bedford, Gavin Smith, John Knies, Robert McNelis, Joshua Porrini and Philip Bovankovich are in the starting lineup every game, along with sophomore Jaden Barton. It’s a mix of talent and experience that Coach Bedford firmly believes will improve the program in the near future.
“I explained to the kids early on and remind them as the season goes that you have to realistically understand where your talent level is currently and if you can’t accept that, you will never be the best player you can be,” he said. “At the same time, they understand that what we lack in areas of talent, that is where our teammates will pick us up to hopefully achieve things that no one person can alone.”
Senior Tye Martinez, a second-year player in the program, along with juniors Darren Tyson and Bryan Colmery have also bought into the youth movement, knowing that the results of their efforts this year might not be realized until they are Newark High alums.
Bedford understands the importance of his upperclassmen working hard with the underclassmen to better the program for the future. That all starts with the veteran Lafferty, who has continued to contribute selflessly to a program he’s been invested in from the beginning of his high school career.
“Jacob has always understood that his talent level is not as high as others to come through [our program], but his acceptance to listen and apply the things we teach are crucial, and especially at a time where there are so many impressionable freshmen on our roster,” Bedford said. “He may never play baseball beyond this year, and I know he will be OK with that, but for him to continue to come out [for the team] to make his teammates better speaks volumes of his character. I am very proud to coach Jacob and more proud of the young man that he is shaping out to be.”
Newark’s season continues on Saturday when the Yellowjackets host Wilmington Friends at noon.
“Not sure how this will all shape out, but we will be successful in becoming a team, no matter what our record is at the end of the year,” Bedford confidently said.