Frank Nigro could be the poster boy for the All-American Baseball Challenge.
A 2019 graduate of Wilmington University in New Castle, DE, where he was the Wildcats’ catcher for four years after a standout scholastic career at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, NJ, Nigro was just itching for an opportunity to get back on the diamond this spring…which ran into the summer. Then along came the All-American Baseball Challenge and a call from Rockland Boulders’ manager Albert Gonzalez, who had been an assistant down at High Point of the Atlantic League last year where Nigro had appeared in 38 games.
“Just being given this chance to play,” Nigro, who will turn 23 on Aug. 1, said. “I was – like all these guys – home for the last four months and not knowing what was going to happen. Then this great opportunity came around and I am thankful for this chance.”
Though he hails from Stony Point in northern Rockland County, Nigro opted to cross the New Jersey state border for high school at prestigious Don Bosco Prep.
“I had uncles go to Bosco and another to St. Joe’s (Regional High School in Montvale, NJ),” Nigro said. “My uncle Patrick Kearney ended up playing football at Boston University and my other uncle Michael Kearney played baseball at Seton Hall and Rutgers.”
Nigro continued, “I knew that the (baseball) competition would be very good and I also knew about the academics. Both are very good schools – I just decided that Bosco was the place to go.”
His freshman year at Bosco, he played second base. He switched to the outfield the next year before donning the catcher’s gear for good as a junior. He has been behind the plate ever since.
“I just love catching,” Nigro said. “Call me crazy, but I love it when the ball hits me – it wakes me up. I love being able to run the staff and get to know all the pitchers. And I am involved in every play.”
He added with a laugh, “And I am not fast enough to play any other position.”
Wilmington was the only school to come calling with a college offer, but it turned out to be a perfect match for Nigro.
“I loved it down there,” Nigro said. “I had to grow up really fast down there because there are no dorms at Wilmington – you have to live in apartments. You grow up pretty fast when you have to go out and buy your own groceries.
Play in the Central Atlantic Athletic Conference was gritty and a grind, according to Nigro.
“Back-to-back conference doubleheaders with a non-conference game thrown in every now and then,” he said. “It was a grind, but we all loved it.”
Over four years at Wilmington, Nigro appeared in 161 games and hit .270 with five home runs and 77 RBI. Good defensive catchers are always at the top of every manager’s list and Nigro takes pride in his play behind the plate and his relationship with pitchers. “I like to anticipate that a pitch will be in the dirt – you have to get below the ball,” he explained. “When there is a man on base, always expect that he is going to be running.”
Nigro continued, “I like to talk to the pitchers and find out what they are comfortable throwing that day – you have to find out how they are feeling that day. I like to find out what they are comfortable with throwing when they need to make a pitch. It is all about getting to know them and them getting to know me.”
With Palisades Credit Union Park in Pomona the home of the Boulders for the summer league, Nigro relishes the chance to play before his family – Stony Point is a stone’s throw from Pomona. “It is awesome that my family is getting the chance to see me play,” he said. “I am so grateful that Albert (Gonzalez) gave me this opportunity.”
Nigro continued, “We have such a great group of guys here. Even though we only had about three days to get to know one another before the first game, it all seems to have clicked.”
He added, “The goal is to have fun and hopefully win a championship – with these circumstances, who knows, but we are having a great time. Maybe we can get picked up for next year – whatever happens, happens. I am just taking it day-by-day and enjoying it.”
The All-American Baseball Challenge is a six-team league that includes the Boulders, Brave, New Jersey Jackals, Skylands Cardinals, Sussex County Miners and Jersey Wise Guys. Each team is playing a 32-game schedule.
All games in the All-American Baseball Challenge, a summer recreation league comprised of professional and college players, are being held each week on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, running through the weekend following Labor Day in September. In accordance with New York State guidelines, crowds are extremely limited and masks are required as part of the ballpark’s guest separation protocol.
Schedule and ticket information can be found at www.palisadescreditunionpark.com.