By Bob Behre
Diamond Jacks Nick Maldonado, Devin Hack, Nick Diaz, Jack Erbeck and John Raymond have been named recipients of Diamond Nation’s Annual Kevin Gilbert Scholarship.
Kevin Gilbert was a remarkably talented baseball player and a leader among his peers in the Diamond Jacks program when he died in an automobile accident shortly before the start of his senior season at Hunterdon Central High School in 2011. Flemington-based Diamond Nation began the scholarship fund that year to honor the memory of a player and person it deemed the prototype of what a Diamond Jack should strive to be.
Each year’s scholarship recipients must meet stringent academic, athletic and character requirements and complete an essay. Gilbert had penned an essay for one of his high school classes just four days before his death and that essay reveals much about his love for the game of baseball. In the essay, he quoted Mike Nalepa’s take on the game.
“There is a soothing rhythm to it all, pitch-by-pitch, inning-by-inning. Baseball is a world of order, interrupted by brief, breathtaking moments of chaos, where memories and heroes can be made. It has unlimited potential. It can be ugly one moment and beautiful the next. It is part play, part profanity, and party poetry. And really, what is more American than that?”
Maldonado of Short Hills, Hack of Somerville, Diaz of Bridgewater, Erbeck of Skillman and Raymond of Frenchtown each personify the qualities Kevin Gilbert brought to the ball field and the field of life. “Kevin exemplified all the qualities we expect from our student-athletes at Diamond Nation,” says DN general manager Nick Massari. “He was a great teammate, always hustled, played the game the way it should be played, showed leadership on and off the field, performed in the classroom, worked hard even when no one was watching, won and lost with class, and was a person of integrity who had fun playing the great game of baseball.”
Each scholarship recipient receives $2,500.
Kevin Gilbert Scholarship recipients.
Nick is a senior at Seton Hall Prep and is committed to Vanderbilt University. A 6-2, 195-pound shortstop and right-handed pitcher, he has the ability to succeed at the Division 1 level at either position. He was the winning pitcher in Seton Hall Prep’s state championship final as a freshman in 2016. The rare four-year starter at Seton Hall led the Pirates in batting average his junior season and pitched a no-hitter.
Nick says: “Winning the Kevin Gilbert Scholarship is something I am really proud of and am very happy to be honored with. Although it is great to be acknowledged for your baseball skills, an award like this has a much deeper meaning since it goes beyond me being able to just play a game well. It makes me feel proud that the people who selected me for this award feel that I am a good person with good character. I thank Diamond Nation for feeling I deserve this scholarship. I will certainly do my very best to live up to it.”
Devin is a senior at Somerville High School and is committed to Seton Hall University. He and his teammates won the school’s first-ever NJSIAA group championship in 2018 when the Pioneers nailed down the Group 3 title. Hack is a 5-11, 165-pound center fielder with excellent skills and a lefty-hitting leadoff batter who has the ability to beat you with rockets in the gap and bunts for base hits.
Devin says: “I would like to thank Diamond Nation for selecting me for the Kevin Gilbert Scholarship. It means a lot to me and my family. After all these years with the Diamond Jacks program, it was was great to cap it all off on such a high note.”
Another talented two-way player, Jack is a 6-3, 205-pound righty pitcher/outfielder/first baseman committed to Fairfield University. He struck out 61 batters in just 33.1 innings as a junior for the Hun School in 2018. He was dangerous at the plate, too, batting .356 and scoring 26 runs for his team.
Jack says: “I am truly honored to have been chosen for the Kevin Gilbert Scholarship since Kevin played the game with such great class and respect. I feel I have always tried to embody those same qualities on and off the field. I am thankful for the opportunities given to me by the Diamond Jacks and the Diamond Nation organization.”
Nick is an unusually talented 5-11, 185-pound catcher for Seton Hall Prep who has committed to Ursinus College. It’s not often you see a catcher with the speed -- 4.73 40-yard dash -- and athleticism Nick has displayed behind the plate and on the base paths. A breakout senior year appears to be on the horizon for this longtime Diamond Jack
Nick says: "Being named a recipient of the Kevin Gilbert Scholarship is something that means a great deal to me and my family. Playing for the Diamond Jacks and learning under the coaches is something that will always be the core of my love for the game. I am incredibly honored to receive the scholarship and am excited to use my Diamond Jacks experience in college."
John is a 5-11, 185-pound outfielder committed to Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia. John made his hits count for his Delaware Valley High School team, driving in 17 runs off his 18 hits, eight of which were for extra bases. He had four doubles, two triples and two home runs for the Terriers in 2018.
John says: “It was great winning the Kevin Gilbert scholarship because the characteristics they look for are exactly what every young baseball player strives to be like. Also, it’s an honor to be recognized for such a meaningful reason. The scholarship money will help me continue to play for the next four years.”