Linden senior TJ Santiago, a starting varsity pitcher for the Tigers since his freshman season, will continue pitching on the collegiate level at Adelphi University in Garden City, N.Y.
Santiago, with a career varsity record of 11-6 and an ERA this past season under 2.00, gave the Division 2 school a verbal commitment Friday.
Santiago plans on signing his letter-of-intent during the first month of the signing period in November.
TJ are not initials that stand for two names. Santiago’s first name is simply, TJ. He does not have a middle name.
“The coaches were very welcoming and had a lot of nice things to say,” said the 5-10 ½, 150-pound hard-throwing right hander.
Santiago, who will turn 18 in the middle of his senior season on May 3, went 5-4 for Linden this past season after fashioning a 3-0 record his freshman year and a 3-2 mark as a sophomore.
Santiago said that Adelphi first saw him pitch this summer in a tournament he pitched in at Baseball Heaven in Long Island. The team he played on participated in five games, with Santiago earning a complete-game victory in the only contest he pitched.
“I had a very good outing,” Santiago said.
About a week or two later Santiago said he received a call from Adelphi head coach Dom Scala.
“He said to come down,” said Santiago, who took a campus visit right before school started.
“It’s a small campus, but really nice,” Santiago said. “It’s also not that far from home, which I like as well.”
Santiago, as a member of the New Jersey Tigers travel team, next competed in a tournament in Staten Island earlier this month. Scala and Adelphi assistant coach Bill Ianniciello saw Santiago pitch again and this time they offered a scholarship.
“Adelphi’s a high Division 2,” Santiago said. “Playing at a Division 1 or Division 2 school, you can get drafted from either one, it doesn’t make a difference.”
Santiago is the second scholarship player in the past four seasons from Linden’s program. Kyle Frazier, a 2010 graduate, is now a junior at Division 2 West Chester University in West Chester, Pa.
Frazier was one of three catchers on West Chester’s first Division 2 national championship squad this past spring, with the Golden Rams finishing 46-10.
As a Linden senior, Frazier caught Santiago during Santiago’s freshman season.
“TJ’s work ethic makes him as good as he is,” said former Linden head coach Pat Migliore. “That’s the most important thing with him.
“We tried to instill in him, going back to his freshman year, to have a stronger work ethic than anybody else on the field if he wanted to be a successful pitcher. He took that and rolled with it.”
Back on March 31 on a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon in Hudson County, Santiago began his junior season in fine form. On Opening Day he tossed a complete-game four-hit shutout in blanking host Hoboken 7-0.
While Hoboken senior lefty Kenny Roder, who went on to earn all-state honors, struck out 16 in 6 and 2/3 innings, Santiago struck out 13, walked just one and only allowed four singles. Santiago was perfect in one inning, struck out the side in three and of his 101 pitches, 75 were strikes.
“I put in a lot of hard work during the off season,” said Santiago, who earned Second-Team All-County and First-Team All-Conference honors. “I didn’t have a great junior year, but I was satisfied with what I did.”
Santiago said his fastball topped out at 89 mph this summer.
“I’m going to continue working on that,” Santiago said. “My off speed pitch, my splitter, is my other go-to pitch.”
Santiago will work with a trainer this winter.
“I’m looking to put on some weight and hoping to get my fastball to 92 by the spring,” Santiago said.
For the last three of the four seasons he was Linden’s head coach, Migliore – a fine pitcher himself on the high school level at Elizabeth, who during his senior season pitched the Minutemen to the 1991 Union County Tournament championship – had complete confidence every time he sent Santiago to the mound.
“He pitches like a 25-year-old man in an 18-year-old kids’ body,” Migliore said. “I wouldn’t say that we did a lot with his mechanics, they didn’t really need work. It was more cerebral work and that’s what the Adelphi coach liked the most. He found TJ to be a very smart and knowledgeable pitcher.
“For example, when guys came up to the plate in certain situations, it was TJ learning how to throw the pitches needed to get those batters out.”
Those pitches – explained by Migliore – include a fastball, a curveball, a very hard split finger fastball and a very good changeup.
“TJ really listened and adopted a lot of things that we told him would work,” Migliore said.
“He took his work ethic – on his own – to a whole other level. “I’ve never seen a kid work like the way he does.”
Also an excellent batter, Santiago hit .400 as a junior. He became a switch hitter his sophomore season and this past year started his junior campaign batting second before moving up to leadoff.
“The team is looking pretty good for next year,” Santiago said.
Although he will be playing for a new head coach, Santiago was thankful for the guidance he received from Migliore, who was 37-50 in four years.
“He always gave me the opportunity to show what I have,” Santiago said. “He also always helped me out if I was interested in a school and which coach to contact.”
NOTES: Migliore said he was let go of his position as Linden’s head baseball coach at the end of June. Before that, he was an assistant coach at Linden under Dan Mondelli, who is now the head coach at Holmdel.
“Steve Yesinko (Linden’s Athletic Director) said he wanted to go in a different direction,” Migliore said. “He said he didn’t feel the baseball program was making the improvements that he wanted.”
Migliore is a physical education teacher at Linden’s McManus Middle School. He will be coaching basketball there this winter for the 15th year.