Former player Eck set to lead experienced Ryan baseball team

  • Eck (second from left) is seen during his Ryan playing days back in the late 1980s. PHOTO COURTESY OF GERRY ECK

  • Gerry Eck takes over as Archbishop Ryan’s head baseball coach after Ron Gerhart retired. Eck has been a varsity assistant since 2010. PHOTO COURTESY OF GERRY ECK

Gerry Eck rattled off plenty of ad­ject­ives to de­scribe his as­cen­sion from Arch­bish­op Ry­an base­ball play­er to head coach.

Ex­cited. Sur­real. Un­be­liev­able. Amaz­ing.

In high school, many kids play sports, but few of them get to ex­per­i­ence the feel­ing of com­ing full-circle to coach the team they once played for dec­ades later. Eck, who played at Ry­an in the late 1980s and has been a varsity base­ball as­sist­ant since 2010, was tabbed as the school’s head coach when in­cum­bent Ron Ger­hart de­cided to re­tire.

And if you think coaches don’t feel the but­ter­flies in their bel­lies the way play­ers do be­fore a game, think again.

“Be­fore our first non-league game against Cent­ral, I was scared to death, to the point where our train­er asked me if I was OK,” Eck said with a laugh by phone on Monday morn­ing. “I want to do so well and rep­res­ent this school well, too. I love base­ball to death. It’s a re­li­gion in my fam­ily. My goal for us is to be a power­house in the classroom and on the field. I truly be­lieve we can make them dom­in­ant. We’ve al­ways been pretty strong, but I want to put it on an­oth­er level.”

Des­pite the dif­fi­culty of the Cath­ol­ic League Red Di­vi­sion (or, the stronger of the league’s two di­vi­sions, which fea­tures Ry­an, Judge, Ro­man Cath­ol­ic, La Salle, Car­din­al O’Hara and St. Joe’s Prep), Eck be­lieves he has the play­ers to make an im­me­di­ate run at the crown.

The Raid­ers are com­ing off a third-place 9-6 sea­son in the Red Di­vi­sion, a game be­hind the Prep and two be­hind La Salle. First-team All-Cath­ol­ic se­lec­tions Gage Ga­le­one (out­field), Chris Elmes (pitch­er) and Dan Stahl (des­ig­nated hit­ter) all gradu­ated, but top-line re­turn­ers in­clude out­field­er Con­nor Golden and the left side of the in­field in Tom Der­er and Bobby Ro­mano. Der­er (New Jer­sey In­sti­tute of Tech­no­logy) and Ro­mano (Fair­leigh Dickin­son) have already com­mit­ted to Di­vi­sion-I base­ball pro­grams, while Golden is bound for Buck­nell on a foot­ball schol­ar­ship. Eck will lean heavy on this ex­per­i­enced seni­or trio, which should ease his trans­ition from as­sist­ant to head coach.

“We have a good bond, and I’m very in­to hav­ing good re­la­tion­ships and open lines of com­mu­nic­a­tion with the kids,” Eck said. “It goes a long way. I want us to build a good rap­port, and that seni­or lead­er­ship is huge. They’re tre­mend­ous. That’s the lead­er­ship we need, and we’re get­ting it.”

The ex­ten­ded, of­ten bru­tal winter weath­er has been a bit of a mon­key wrench for Eck and com­pany, but he said he ex­pects his team to “come out guns blaz­ing right out of the chute.”

“We’ve done a lot of in­door hit­ting, so our pitch­ing might be ahead of the of­fense in the first couple of games,” Eck said. “We’ll be ready. The kids are so ex­cited. They’re chomp­ing at the bit and are real jazzed to get out there. The en­ergy level is high octane. I ex­pect us to con­tend, no doubt in my mind.”

Eck men­tioned ju­ni­or second base­man Chris Sanc­hez and ju­ni­or catch­er Josh Lopez as names to look out for. He said Lopez “could be one of the best catch­ers in the area and is get­ting in­terest from minor league scouts.” 

Above all else, Eck, who has a son and a daugh­ter cur­rently en­rolled at Ry­an, wants this sea­son to be akin to a fam­ily af­fair. He re­mem­bers the 2010 Ry­an team fondly, one that un­ex­pec­tedly went on a Cinder­ella post­season run that fell one glass slip­per short of a Cath­ol­ic League cham­pi­on­ship. 

If any­thing, he wants this sea­son — and the ones to fol­low — to serve as a well of memor­ies for years to come. Eck told a story of a re­cent alumni beef-n-beer he at­ten­ded in which he ran in­to a Ry­an base­ball play­er who suited up for the school’s in­aug­ur­al team in 1967. The con­ver­sa­tion stuck with Eck.

“This guy, he’s in his 60s, he played in the very first base­ball game at this school, and he’s telling me how he can’t wait to come out and see some of our games,” Eck said. “That’s the kind of ex­per­i­ence I want our kids to have. I want them to be able to have memor­ies when they’re old and gray, say­ing to each oth­er, ‘Hey, you re­mem­ber that game against Judge?’ or ‘Re­mem­ber that play­off game against the Prep?’ It’s neat to be able to have that ex­per­i­ence.”

Eck him­self said he’s shared plenty of his own memor­ies, as he and cur­rent Arch­bish­op Wood head foot­ball coach Steve Devlin played foot­ball and base­ball to­geth­er dur­ing their time at Ry­an. The two re­main close friends to this day.

“It’s sur­real, al­most. This feel­ing, to come back and be able to coach these kids at Ry­an, it’s hard to ex­plain,” Eck said. “It keeps you young, work­ing with them day in and day out, see­ing them achieve things. I tell them that it goes fast, and that ath­let­ics can open a lot of doors for these kids. Hard work can go a long way, and I’m really ex­cited with this bunch that we have.” ••

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