SAUGUS — The transition for baseball players who take their talents from the high school diamond to the college one is no easy task.
Regardless of which division in which they land, the competition in college always rises up a notch. More often than not, college players are bigger, stronger and more experienced when compared to those in high school.
It helps to spend a summer competing against college-level talents before making the jump to the collegiate diamond. Saugus native Justin Horvath is a prime example.
Horvath, who graduated from Saugus High this past spring, played a year of varsity baseball and hockey for the Sachems after transferring from Malden Catholic. A star pitcher and center fielder, Horvath helped Saugus reach the Division 3 North state tournament in his lone season with the team.
Prior to the start of the baseball season, Horvath committed to Salem State. After staying on campus for an overnight visit, in which he met Vikings coach Al Donovan, a Lynn native, Horvath was sold on joining the team.
“I went for the overnight and I liked the school and I liked Coach Donovan,” Horvath, who played left wing for the Saugus hockey team, said. “I know Salem State’s always had a good team so that pretty much convinced me to join the team.”
“Salem State’s always had a competitive team,” Horvath added. “They always compete. I met some of the kids and they were great, they’re competitors. I know Coach Donovan played Division 1 baseball so he knows the game. I’ve had a couple coaches on travel teams that played at Salem State and they were great.”
To prepare himself for the jump to the collegiate diamond, Horvath spent his summer pitching and playing all three outfield positions for the Saugus Wings of the North Shore Baseball League.
In six regular-season appearances on the mound, Horvath posted a 2.33 ERA with a 2-3 record and 31 strikeouts over 33 innings of work.
“It was a challenge,” Horvath said of his experience pitching in the NSBL. “Everyone’s older. There were a couple of ex-professionals. It’s much different than the high school level. You can’t just throw the ball by them, you have to mix up your pitches and hit your spots. I ended up throwing my changeup a little more.”
Horvath’s hope is that the competition he faced throughout the summer with the Wings, who reached the postseason before bowing out in a best-of-three quarterfinal series to the Kingston Night Owls, served to give him a good idea of what he’ll match up against in college.
“I know most of those guys were college players,” Horvath said. “I’d imagine it would be something like that, what I’ll be facing in college.”
For Horvath, getting as many innings and repetitions as he could with the Wings was a key component of his summer. He expects to be used primarily as a pitcher at Salem State.
“The innings were good, especially seeing how other college kids play,” Horvath said. “Getting that repetition and seeing how they compete, that really helps prepare me.”
Moving forward, Horvath acknowledges that he’ll face a handful of new challenges when he sets foot on the diamond as a Viking. Although he admitted that he feels nervous about making the jump, Horvath added that he’s also confident in himself.
“I’m a little mix of both nervous and confident,” Horvath said. “I’ve never played for a college team but I know I’m confident in myself. I know the competition’s much better but I’m confident that I’ll do well.”
In hopes of adding a third pitch to his repertoire, Horvath zoned in on working on his changeup this summer.
“I think I’m going to have to get stronger and throw harder,” Horvath said. “I’ll have to develop another pitch so I’ve been working on my changeup a little more.”
Making the upcoming college baseball experience for Horvath even more special is the fact that he’ll be staying close to home. Horvath, the second oldest of five siblings, has always relied on having his family cheer him on from the bleachers throughout his career.
“That’s a cool part of it,” Horvath said. “Salem’s not a long drive from my house so they’ll be able to watch me play whenever.”
“I love the sport,” he added. “My family comes to my games. My aunt has almost never missed a game. She gets out of work to come to my games. It’s awesome, having all my family there to watch me play. It helps.”