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Cruz enjoys time with the New York 9

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Jose Cruz knew little about summer baseball when Norman Thomas coach Nerva Jean Pierre suggested the New York Nine to him.

The Walton slugger and ace right-hander just wanted to play, and the Nine’s showcase team certainly offered him that opportunity. He spent his summer last year on a baseball diamond, but rickety ones in the Bronx, such as Crotona Park.

The Nine offered something a little different – games everyday, trips across the country, college and professional scouts in attendance.

Just a month into the season, the 17-year-old Cruz, who was a FiveBoroSports.com All-Bronx honorable mention selection, is happy with his decision.

“I like the team, the coaches, my (new) friends,” said the muscular 5-foot-9 Cruz, who came to New York City two years ago from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. “Everybody’s together. If you do something bad, they give you advice on how to fix what you were doing wrong.”

“You can learn,” he added, “a lot about baseball.”

With the Nine, comprised of talented city kids from each borough and others from Westchester schools like Mamaroneck and Fox Lane, he is used as a closer and middle infielder. Coach Stanley Latimer said Cruz would be one of his best starters, but he was nursing a sore arm at the start of the summer.

Like other standouts new to summer baseball, Cruz has needed to make certain adjustments, less so, Latimer said, on the mound, where he throws in the mid 80s with an effective breaking ball and change-up. Offensively, he got off to a slow start, having trouble against the heightened level of competition. Almost every day, the Nine will face a pitcher comparable to the No. 1 starter of a high-school team.

“He’s starting to understand how good quality elite pitching can be day in and day out,” said Latimer, the pitching coach for Fox Lane HS in Westchester. “He’s starting to be very productive.”

Cruz said he is enjoying his life of baseball virtually every day. He has developed a close bond with the three George Washington kids – pitcher Nestor Bautista, shortstop Mike Antonio and infielder Xyruse Martinez – and the best part of the summer is still upcoming. That would be high-level showcase tournaments in Georgia and Boston.

Not only should the experience help Cruz in terms of exposure for college and possibly one day pro ball, but it can’t hurt him when it comes to leading Walton his junior year. Latimer has been coaching summer baseball for close to 20 years and newcomers almost never regress.

“I have yet to see a kid who has played with me go back to high school and not be a completely different player,” Latimer said. “Once you get back to that, they find their varsity season much easier and they become extremely effective and productive ball players.”

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