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Saugus baseball: Playing it forward

Junior shortstop carrying torch as a foundational player for the Centurions

Posted: April 3, 2010 10:57 p.m.
Updated: April 4, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Saugus junior Nick Lombardi is developing into a potential face for the Centurions' program. This season, he has shifted over from third base to shortstop.

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Saugus head coach John Maggiora knew.

He knew the face of his program, Zachary Vincej, would eventually graduate.

Sometimes programs have the good fortune of getting a four-year star, as was the case when Vincej arrived on the Saugus baseball team as a freshman in 2006.

They don't always have the fortune of grooming somebody to take that star player's place upon graduation.
Saugus did.

Maggiora says he saw something special in Nick Lombardi when he was just a freshman and Vincej was a junior.

"You (could just) see how the kid carried himself," Maggiora says of when Lombardi was a freshman.

So he spoke to Vincej and encouraged him to take Lombardi under his wing.
Two years later, Lombardi is poised to become the next great Saugus baseball player.

Through 10 games, the 16-year-old is batting a team-high .486 with three home runs, 13 RBIs and nine extra-base hits.

He's following up a sophomore campaign in which he led the Centurions with a .393 average.

"I think he can be exceptional," Maggiora says. "When you put the fact that he's a student, if someone doesn't offer him the world by this summer, I'll be shocked."

True, Lombardi is a student.

He says that he has a 4.2 cumulative grade-point average, and adds that if he had the opportunity, he'd choose college over getting drafted by a Major League Baseball team.

But more than that, it's the work that he puts in that sets him apart.

"Nick's one of the hardest workers I've worked out. It's not just trying to be the best on the team, it's working to be the best period," says personal trainer Mike Yudin, who works as a strength and conditioning coach for Saugus baseball. "Because he wants to be the best, he's willing to sacrifice what a lot of kids aren't willing to do."

Yudin says it starts with goals.

It's Lombardi's goal to exceed them.

He increased his strength before this season, made obvious in the jump of his power numbers - he didn't hit a single home run last year.

But his concentration has also gotten better.

The talent was always there.

It's a reason he made the jump to varsity midway through his freshman season.

Things were made more comfortable by Vincej's counsel.

"He was a great example of what it means to work hard every day and be a role model for all the other guys," Lombardi says of Vincej. "When I was a freshman, I read about him. When I got to varsity, I was really excited to play with him. He was like an idol to me."

Vincej, now a freshman shortstop at Pepperdine, made the jump to varsity when he was a freshman at Saugus.

He says it was older players, like former Centurion Brandon Young, who helped him along.

Vincej was just returning the favor.

"I knew he was a pretty good player," Vincej says of Lombardi. "Mostly, I just wanted to see the team win, and to see him hold his own was great. I loved to see my teammates and all the other younger players do well. He's a hard worker. He works his butt off."

When the pair played together last season, Vincej was the established shortstop and Lombardi was the third baseman.

Vincej would encourage him out in the field and give him advice.

When Vincej graduated, it left a hole at shortstop.

Despite Lombardi being what Maggiora calls, "probably the best third baseman I've ever seen," he was moved to shortstop.

It might not be his final stop.

Maggiora says his future, including college or beyond, might be as a catcher, due in large part to his stellar arm.

The best comparison can be made to former Valencia High player Casey Mulligan, who played shortstop and third base before moving behind the plate for his senior season in 2006.

Maggiora was an assistant coach while Mulligan was at Valencia.

Mulligan is now a pitcher in the St. Louis Cardinals' organization, and like Vincej, was a foundation for his program - a "face of the program," if you will.

One attribute that always defined Vincej was his humility.

But a season removed, he can reflect on his place in Saugus baseball history and project for a player he now considers a good friend.

"I never set out to be the face of the program. I just tried to work as hard as I could," Vincej says. "I see him doing the same thing. He's just a junior. He's doing the same things I was doing at his age."

Lombardi apparently shares a lot of attributes with Vincej.

Humility being another.

"I wanted to be the guy who would be the spark of the team, be a good example for what our guys should do on the field," he says. "It's more of a team effort, though. There's no real ‘face of the program.' As a team, we win. This year it will be more of a team effort. There are no big names. I'm no big name yet by any means at all."



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