Monday, January 17, 2022

Sports Person of the Week

Lombardi Earned His Place at First Base

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CJ Lombardi earned the starting first baseman’s job for the East Haven baseball squad this spring and also led the team as a senior captain. Photo courtesy of CJ Lombardi

CJ Lombardi earned the starting first baseman’s job for the East Haven baseball squad this spring and also led the team as a senior captain. (Photo courtesy of CJ Lombardi)

While he grew up playing football, basketball, and baseball, CJ Lombardi always enjoyed being on the diamond the most. When he got to high school, CJ put in a ton of work to improve as a first baseman and went on to become both a varsity starter and a captain in his senior season with the East Haven baseball team.

CJ started playing tee-ball in Momauguin Little League in 1st grade and then played in the Annex Little League in New Haven through his 8th-grade season. During this time, CJ’s father Chris always served as one of his coaches. CJ’s dad encouraged him to play baseball and was always involved in his athletic pursuits.

“My father played football and baseball in high school. He still plays in softball leagues. All my life, I’ve always been involved in sports,” CJ says. “He was always coaching me in some way. He was always involved in the sports aspect of my life.”

From 6th to 8th grade, CJ competed for the Connecticut Edge in the AAU circuit. At the time, he was still playing football and basketball. However, as the level of competition increased, CJ decided that baseball was the sport he wanted to pursue full-time.

“It was always my favorite to play. I was a decent hitter and was put at first base. As I got older, I got better at first and ended up sticking there,” says CJ. “Once I got to AAU, I just decided I wanted to play baseball as long as I can.”

CJ always enjoyed being around other kids on the field as he grew up playing baseball in East Haven. It was a fun experience for CJ that made him appreciate having a social life outside of school.

When he started high school, CJ joined the Yellowjackets and played for the freshman team. The intensity of the high school game was different than what he was used to, but CJ embraced the camaraderie that he shared with his new teammates.

“It was a lot different than playing in the rec league. Almost all the games are a lot more important,” CJ says. “In rec, you’re playing with guys from different schools. In high school, you’re with these guys almost all day in school, practice, and games. You’re always seeing the same faces.”

CJ spent his sophomore season playing for East Haven’s JV team. Heading into his junior year, CJ was putting in more work than he ever had prior to a baseball season. CJ would hit and take ground balls every day, even pitching in some money so that he and his teammates could rent the batting cages as much as possible. Unfortunately, just as he was getting ready to take on the starting first baseman’s role, CJ’s junior season was canceled due to COVID-19.

Despite losing a full season of high school baseball, CJ never stopped working as he prepared for his senior year. CJ kept putting in the effort in his mission to solidify his place at first base. CJ was named East Haven’s starting first baseman prior to the 2021 season and maintained that role for the entire year.

“It’s a great accomplishment to be starting for a varsity team at your school,” says CJ, who will attend Gateway Community College and join the school’s railroad program. “I always liked leading the guys, whether it was a practice or a game. As a senior, you just feel like so much more of a leader. I always liked that.”

In addition to earning a starting spot, CJ was also named one of the Easties’ captains alongside fellow senior Nick Furino. CJ was hoping to be a captain this year, but wasn’t sure if he would get the nod. When Head Coach Butch Johnson selected CJ as a captain, the senior was pumped up to lead his team.

“Me and Nick were some of the few seniors that were there for all four years. Going into senior year, I kind of expected to be a captain, but I wasn’t really sure,” CJ says. “When he told me I was a captain, I was ready.”

Coach Johnson was pleased with the demeanor that CJ displayed while leading the Easties. Johnson says that CJ always kept his head up and did everything he could to help East Haven win games.

“CJ brought leadership and strong defense at first base,” says Johnson. “He always stayed into the game and always came out team first.”

Even though he had three sports to choose from, baseball reigned supreme for CJ. As he looks back his time playing ball in East Haven, CJ feels honored to have competed for the Yellowjackets.

“It was an honor to play under Coach Johnson as he has been a part of baseball at the high school for a while,” CJ says. “Being a part of one of the teams he coached will always be great to me.”

 


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