In high school baseball, an elite pitcher can win a lot of games.
An elite pitching staff can win a league and state championship.
The Father Judge High School baseball team proved that this year because few schools had as good a staff as the Crusaders.
Dave Rodriguez was the best pitcher in the Catholic League, and a reason the Crusaders won a lot of games. But when he wasn’t on the mound, Tim Gress was just as tough on hitters as his teammates.
“I love my role on the team,” said Gress, who was lights out during the Crusaders’ run to the Catholic League and state titles. “Dave is the guy, and everyone knows how great he is, that doesn’t bother me at all.
“It’s great having him. In our game against North Penn, I knew I was running out of pitches because of the pitch count. If I had to come out, Dave was going in. I love knowing he’s behind me.”
Gress’ attitude is rare in sports, but common for the Crusaders baseball team. This year, led by coach Mike Metzger, the Crusaders had an answer for every question any team threw at them.
Their only loss in Catholic League play was to La Salle, the same team they beat in the PCL championship game.
And for all of their accomplishments, the Crusaders, along with members of the St. Hubert cheerleading national championship teams, were honored Thursday night at Cottman and Frankford, pretty fitting since that’s where we all go when our teams are the best.
No doubt about it, Judge baseball and St. Hubert cheerleading were the best this year.
“It was a great time, they had a band and announced all of the players and coaches for us and St. Hubert’s cheerleading,” said Gress, a Mayfair native who now lives in Winchester Park. “They gave us some goodies, they had these T-shirts with our teams on it, and all the sponsors, and politicians were there and they gave us a citation of recognition. It was pretty great.
“I was talking to my dad, how many people will be there. He said maybe like 25 or 30. There were maybe 75 to 100 who came out to cheer us on, take pictures, take videos and just have fun. It was great.”
Gress won 11 of Judge’s 25 victories and maintained a 1.73 earned run average. He was as good as a pitcher could be, and the improvement he showed from his sophomore campaign was remarkable.
“It was crazy, as a sophomore, I was usually coming in, in relief, and not even every game,” Gress said. “Last year we had Dave and John Westfield, so we had great pitching. When I got a chance, I just tried to do my best.
“As pitchers on this team, it helps that we have great defense behind us. It means if we throw strikes, we’ll get outs.”
Gress enjoyed a lot of success this year playing baseball, but even after all of that, it’s still his second-favorite sport.
His top sport is golf. He’s on the Crusaders golf team, and hopes to continue with the game after graduating college. Still, it doesn’t mean his baseball career is over after next year.
“I’m gearing toward golf for college, that’s what I think I’ll be doing,” Gress said. “Only 17 colleges have Professional Golf Management, and that’s what I want to major in. Penn State has it and so does Methodist, a small D-3 (in Fayetteville, North Carolina), and that’s where I’m heading. And Methodist has a baseball program. So I might play, I’m not sure.”
If things go well, he’ll have a much easier time being a golf professional than how he’s spending his summer.
He works for a landscaping company. The hours are long and the work is daunting.
“We do everything but cut grass,” Gress said. “We’ll build a patio, take care of trees, trim a tree, mulch work. It’s a lot of work, I started at 7 a.m. today and finished at 5 for the parade. If I didn’t have the parade, I’d be out there until 7 or 8. But I’m definitely getting stronger, lifting wood, wheelbarrows, shoveling. It’s definitely getting me stronger. It’s a good job.”
It’s the same attitude that makes him a good pitcher. He credits his parents for helping him grow into the player, and more importantly, the person he is.
“My parents have had a huge impact on me, they’ve taught me everything I know,” said Gress, who is ranked in the top 10 percent of his senior class. “They taught me how to be a gentleman, my dad taught me how to play baseball. They taught me to just try to be a good person and care about other people. That’s something I take seriously.
“Being a gentleman will get you much further than being a baseball player.”
He’s a gentleman first. He just happens to be a gentleman who can throw nasty pitches, and he hopes having him and Rodriguez back could lead to another great year.
He loves winning, but it means so much more winning at Judge.
“I hope to keep up the good grades in school and make sure I can be a mentor for the younger classes and the kids coming in,” said Gress, who is also on NHS, student council and is the manager of the Judge basketball team. “I really like the open houses and walk-through Wednesdays, where people look at the school, I volunteer to share my words about the school. I love it.”