Josh Novas-Martinez trusts the process.
That process involves a lot of work.
Novas-Martinez is a sophomore on the Samuel Fels High School baseball team. A former basketball player, the Dominican Republic native came to Philly when he was 13. He loved playing basketball, but ultimately he tried baseball and after falling in love with the sport, he worked himself into a solid left-handed pitcher.
“I started playing two years ago, I was entertained by a few sports, like basketball and swimming,” said Novas-Martinez, who also swims for the Panthers during the winter. “I have brothers who played (baseball in the Dominican Republic) and said you have the perfect body for baseball, and I really wanted to play.”
He went out for the Panthers his freshman year, and did a find job pitching. But he wasn’t where he wanted to be.
“I wasn’t throwing that fast, and I needed to figure things out,” said Novas-Martinez, who lives in Summerdale. “And when I would hit someone, I would get really nervous. I needed to get in the correct mindset. That was the biggest thing.
“I tried to do a good job, but there were times I was scared. My mechanics weren’t that good, my speed wasn’t that good and it got worse after I hit someone.”
Now, it’s a completely different story.
Novas-Martinez worked himself into a great pitcher. He’s 5-0 with a 2.12 earned run average. His efforts, and the play of his teammates, have the Panthers sitting pretty at 10-0 heading into the Public League playoffs. Fels will play Thursday.
““Things are going awesome, we’re 10-0, we made it to the playoffs, and we want to win,” Novas-Martinez said. “I knew it was going to be a good year, I was feeling it. I practiced a lot, did a lot of conditioning, I was working with my summer coach, I was getting ready for this.
“Not just me, everyone. Last year we got into the playoffs. But mentally we weren’t there. We had to change our mindset. That’s what they told us and they were right. We worked hard, and we came out here this year with a much better mindset.”
Novas-Martinez’s improvement from last year to this year has been pretty remarkable, but he thinks it’s just a sign of things to come.
He got started late, but since deciding baseball was the sport for him, he’s been putting in plenty of work.
But he takes no credit for that improvement. Instead, he credits the coaches who are helping him get to where he wants to be.
“My coach, Con Caquelante, my pitching coach, he’s helped me so much,” Novas-Martinez said. “He’s trained me. He’s helped me so much, I improved my speed, my mechanics, I’m doing an awesome job thanks to him and my other coaches. We do conditioning all year, we play in the summer and fall ball.
“The coaches at Fels are great, too. We’ve gotten so much better this year. This year we came back stronger. All of us got better and we help each other in the summer. It feels awesome, to be honest.”
Novas-Martinez is the ace of the staff. It helps that he has three pitches, a fastball, a sinker and a slider, keeping opponents off balance. And when he’s not pitching, he sees some work at first base.
But he’s starting to help the Panthers in other ways. And he hopes to continue doing that for the rest of this year and the next two seasons.
“My job is to help my team and to try to win no matter what. If we make a mistake, leave it in the past,” Novas-Martinez said. “I try to motivate my teammates and myself. You need to be mentally strong.
“Sometimes they think you’re flexing and all that. I try to explain how to get to the next level. It’s hard sometimes. I’m 16, I’m trying to talk to some guys who are older, but they’re listening. They all know how to play, we can play, now we want to take it to the next level. Have a stronger mindset.”
Novas-Martinez is a full-time baseball player. He’s giving up football, where he was an offensive and defensive tackle. But he’s also on the Panthers swimming team, and he plans on continuing with that sport.
It’s actually made a difference in baseball.
“Swimming definitely helped me, I was doing it while I was doing conditioning,” said Novas-Martinez, who swims the butterfly and two relays. “Swimming works all parts of your body, it helps everything. Your shoulders, it works everything. It’s a beautiful sport. It’s a great sport for athletes.”
The Panthers have a long road ahead of them, as all Public League teams do. Novas-Martinez wants nothing more than a championship, but he’s happy to see the improvement his team has made this year.
“Everyone is happy, we try to become stronger and get stronger minds,” he said. “Now nobody is letting things get in their head. We’re happy. We were talking about this, we want to win the championship, but we know it’s hard.
“We’re trying to get up there with the other great teams. We have the talent, we just need to work on our mindset. We have the skill and potential.”