April 23, 2014
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
NEW YORK – They came to New York for different reasons.
For Jarred Mederos, it was for a shot at redemption after a season at his hometown University of Miami didn’t go exactly as planned.
For Matt Harris, born and raised in tiny Indialantic, Fla., it was a chance to play high-level Division I baseball in a city he had never visited before.
It couldn’t have worked out better than it has as the two first-year St. John’s players have, no pun intended, taken the BIG EAST by storm.
“New York’s a lot different than my little beach town down (near) Melbourne, Fla.,” said Harris, the Red Storm’s slugging first baseman. “I liked that. And I wanted to play in the BIG EAST Conference. I was disappointed that a lot of teams left but it’s still a great conference and the competition is very good.”
All Harris, the reigning BIG EAST Player of the Week, has done so far this season is lead the conference in RBI with 34, while placing second on the team in average (.326) and hits (44). Not a bad stat line for a player that not only had to adjust to a new conference, but to a new city and weather patterns as well.
“It was a lot easier making the adjustment from JUCO to Division I than coming straight out of high school,” said Harris, who played the past two seasons at Brevard Community College in Florida. “It was easier because the competition level is almost the same. But the big transition was dealing with the winter up here. It was pretty different for me. It was the first time I saw snow up here and we had a lot of it so it was a harder transition.”
New York City also presented a bit of culture shock to the Floridian.
“Yeah, it’s a lot different than Florida,” Harris said. “Everything here is so close together, packed. And you have crazy drivers.”
Yet despite his weather-related and big-city culture obstacles, Harris has thrived.
Such is also the case with Mederos, born and raised in Hialeah, Fla., where the University of Miami campus is virtually in his backyard. After a stellar career at Mater Academy, he followed his dream to play for the Hurricanes where family and friends could watch him on a daily basis.
But that, Mederos said, became the very problem that led him to leaving Miami after one season.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself my freshman year at Miami with being at home and trying to impress people and stuff like that, trying to live up to expectations,” Mederos said.
He left after his freshman season and enrolled at Santa Fe Junior College in Florida where he tore it up in the Mid-Florida Conference. His confidence restored and the pressure removed, St. John’s became his next stop.
“I went to junior college and I started to have fun again,” said Mederos, the Red Storm’s shortstop who leads the team in average (.352) and hits (45) and is tied for first with eight doubles. “I just did the same thing I did in high school, started having fun playing, and I brought it over here.”
A third member of St. John’s who also joined the Red Storm via the JUCO route is Robert Wayman, who travelled cross country from his Salinas, Calif., home to join St. John’s following two seasons at Hartnell College in his home state.
“He’s a hard-nosed player who brings a lot of things to the game,” Mederos said of Wayman, a second baseman/third baseman. “He doesn’t do anything flashy but he gets things done any way he can get them done. He’s been doing great anywhere the coaches put him - second, third, everywhere. And whenever we need a clutch hit he gets it done.”
Wayman is first on the team with 31 runs scored and ranks third in hits with 38.
But despite all the new blood in Queens this season, Mederos said there was a strong chemistry almost from the start.
“We all got along pretty well from the fall even though a lot of us were new,” said Mederos, who wears No. 2 as a tribute to his favorite player, Derek Jeter. “I think we mesh pretty well, that’s one of the things I like about this team. We all hang out and do things together. There are no small groups or anything like that. I feel the team gets along with each other and backs everybody up. It’s a really tight group.”
Both Harris and Mederos have goals to one day play baseball professionally but each knows there is much work still to be done with the Red Storm this season. There is a BIG EAST title up for grabs and the conference tournament at the end of May in sunny Coney Island in Brooklyn. Both Harris and Mederos say you can bank on St. John’s being one of the four teams to qualify for the tournament.
“Oh yeah, for sure,” Harris said. “We’re looking forward to getting in that tournament and winning it.”
Mederos, who had a taste of the NCAA Baseball Tournament during his freshman season at Miami, is hoping for a return engagement now in his junior season. The bitter taste of defeat in Miami’s regional still lingers.
“If we get on a roll, I feel like we actually can get (to the Regionals),” Mederos said. “If we win the BIG EAST and go to Regionals and keep it rolling, anything can go from there. That’s the thing that killed me my freshman year, that we weren’t hot at that time and we were hosting our own regional. The team that was hot was Stony Brook and that’s who kept it rolling from there. That was the team that was making the run that year. They came in and beat us and then they took LSU out and made it to the College World Series.”
Mederos has done his research on St. John’s baseball history and noted the Red Storm won both the BIG EAST regular-season and conference tournament titles in 2012 and won the Chapel Hill Regional in the NCAA Tournament before losing to eventual champion Arizona in the Super Regionals. He would like to lead the Red Storm on another such run this season.
“I just want to help this team get back to where it was in 2012,” Mederos said. “That’s my goal.”