As a junior on River Hill's baseball team, Derek Gold had high expectations for next year when he and his classmates would be seniors. After winning only six games last year, Gold hoped to use this season as a springboard for next year, when he and the Hawks would make a push for the county title and beyond.
But as it turns out, Gold and the Hawks are a year ahead of schedule.
Riding an eight-game winning streak heading into the final week of the regular season, River Hill was able to lock up this year's county championship — even with losses to Glenelg and Hammond to close the regular season — thanks in large part to Gold's team-high .464 batting average and the power arm of ace Kieran Garner.
Gold recently took some time off to chat with reporter Andrew Conrad about closing in on the county title, starting on varsity as a freshman, and getting on base by any means necessary.
What was it like playing with your older brother, Brett, at River Hill as a freshman?
I was a freshman when he was a senior. That was something special for me. Going into freshman year I was a little nervous being on varsity, and he had a lot of friends who had been on the team for awhile so that really helped. They took me in and taught me how to fit into the team and that really contributed to my success with River Hill baseball ... He's at Towson, he's majoring in sports management and he plays club golf so he's having fun doing that and just living the college life.
What do your parents do, are they from the area?
My mom is from Baltimore and my dad is from Philadelphia. My mom is in education, she is the director of a preschool, and my dad is in sales. Brett is minoring in business, but I think I'm interested in criminal justice, so not quite following in their footsteps, but I might minor in business as well as a backup.
What are your college plans?
It's still up in the air as of now. I've thought about playing college baseball, or I play golf as well. I've also thought of going to a bigger school and playing club or intramural sports. I would be interested in (college baseball) if the right opportunity came about. Golf is a good skill to have, especially in business.
Did you play any other sports growing up?
I played basketball as well when I was younger but that was always something to do in the winter to stay busy and stay in shape. But I've been playing baseball since my dad and my brother and I would be out back throwing the ball around (as children). It's just something I've done my whole life. Baseball came first and that was always the priority for me. Golf was always a secondary thing that I did for fun, but as I went to high school I started to enjoy golf more and I was doing well on the golf team for River Hill in the fall. (Gold is the defending county champion). I used to say that I liked baseball way more, but they're pretty close right now, so I'm leaving both options open.
What kind of mental adjustments do you have to make as you transition from golf to baseball season?
The swings for me have always been about swinging easy. I've never been a huge power guy, just wanted to put it in play and be a singles hitter. The mentality is a little bit different for golf. You've got to be more level minded and stay calm, whereas in baseball you can be more intense and get pumped up with your team. I try to keep the same approach for both, just keep it simple and go about my business.
What were the expectations like coming into this season after winning only six games last year?
Last year we were pretty senior heavy and we had a lot of a lot of kids graduated. We didn't have the best year, so going into this year, to be honest, we were thinking it was a rebuilding year. We still had good expectations knowing that we had a lot of young talent coming in. We were just trying to grow with the game and get used to it knowing that next year would really be the year that we felt like we could make a deep run. But as the season went on we started to believe in our skills and started to actually realize that we are one of the best teams in the county ... We're looking forward to finishing off strong and hopefully making a deep run in the playoffs.
Does having only one senior on the roster (outfielder Jake Howland) accelerate the leadership role for guys like you and Kieran Garner?
Me and Kieran came in as freshman and both of us have brothers who were seniors. Falan (Garner) was a tremendous leader for our team, so just learning from guys like him helped us now for the situation that we're in as juniors sharing that experience.
What was it like being a part of a perfect game against Oakland Mills on May 4?
Going into that game we knew that we had to play well and if we didn't it wasn't going to turn out as we wanted. Kieran pitched a heck of a game. He pitched a perfect game and struck out 16 out of 18 guys. That was tremendous. Our whole line-up just stepped up. We had three home runs and a perfect game. It doesn't get much better than that.
What was the experience like playing second place Howard on April 29 and 30 in 13 innings?
That was by far the craziest game that I've ever been a part of. Not only 13 innings but the fact that no team scored until the 13th inning. Credit to Howard because it was a tremendous fight by both teams. We were just trying to scratch out runs but we just didn't get that timely hit. When we got on the bus after that first day coach (Wes McCoy) said to us, "We played a great game and we're at the point in the game where an error or a cheap hit is going to win it." Either way he was proud of us and we put the pressure on them on Saturday and it turned out in our favor. That was an unbelievable game.
What was it like pitching nine innings in that outing?
That was my first stretched out pitching of the year because I was coming off of an arm injury from last year. Coach was taking it lightly this year and I was in relief most of the beginning of the year. I know that I'm not going to blow away people with my speed so I had to mix speeds and hit my spots and that was probably one of the best games I've ever pitched in my life. I'm happy it happened on that day and we were able to get the win.
What's it like being in a pitching rotation with a guy like Kieran?
Having Kieran on the team is a tremendous benefit for us. Every time he steps on the mound we know that we're going to have a chance to win no matter what. Especially for our younger pitchers like Josh (Mann), Danny Selby, Robby Windsor and even me, it's great to have a guy like that who you can learn from and gain experience from. I knew that if we got the lead in the Howard game Kieran was going to be there to close it out for us. We haven't doubted him all year and we're going to keep riding him throughout the playoffs.
Do you have any Major League Baseball role models?
I'm a Phillies and Baltimore Orioles fan, so I was always a fan of Cole Hamels when I was younger, being a lefty pitcher. He was always a player that I really enjoyed watching. Growing up in a baseball family with my dad and my brother, every night we were watching baseball and I think that helped me turn into who I am today.
Did you follow the River Hill baseball team back in '09 when they won the state championship?
Yeah, when I was younger and would play travel baseball we would practice on the River Hill field, so me and my dad would always go up there early and watch the end of the baseball game. We always talked about playing River Hill baseball one day and knew that I would have the opportunity. That team was similar to us … they were not the heavy favorites to win but they scratched it out with their intangibles.
What was that like starting on varsity as a freshman?
That was a big change for me and going through tryouts I wasn't positive that I was going to be on varsity. When I made the team I just knew that I needed to work really hard and I wasn't guaranteed a starting spot so I really had to earn my time. I got off to a hot start during my freshman year and coach trusted me the rest of the year. I was starting in left field and I think that really helped, coming in and knowing that I had to work really hard and nothing was guaranteed.
What has it been like as a hitter this year when every team has a top-of-the-line pitcher?
This year every single team in the county has a pitcher that you know on any given day, their good stuff can shut you down, and it's going to take a really good approach at the plate. That's something that the coaches have really done well for us this year. Every game we go in with a mentality and an approach, we're not just stepping into the box and hoping we hit the ball. We're really adjusting to pitching, up in the box, back in the box, up on the plate taking away the outside corner. You have the harder throwers in the county who are going to try to sneak the fastballs by you, and you have softer throwers who are going to try to switch it up and live on the low and outside corner. So it's just making adjustments every at bat.
How do you feel about how you've been hitting the ball this year?
This year I started off and it was the best I've ever hit the ball. The first few games of the year I had a simple approach: look for singles and if you find that gap stretch it into a double. Just thinking right side singles. Just getting off to a great start and getting your confidence high early is really important and then you can carry that out for the rest of the year.
Were you a natural left-handed thrower growing up or was that something that you had to develop?
My brother and dad are both rightys, so I'm not really sure how that came about. Getting hit by pitches isn't the best thing for me because I take it off the throwing arm, but it's all right. Especially coming on in relief as a lefty is a huge benefit for us.
Is getting hit by pitches something that you see as a badge of honor?
Especially my freshman year, just knowing that the pitching was going to be really good and I had to find ways to get on base. I was always up on the plate, not getting out of the way of the pitches and I was called back quite a few times by umpires for not getting out of the way. That's something we have stressed this year with our team: you've got to get every baserunner you can whether thats working walks or wearing the pitch. I was made fun of quite a bit because I think I had about 18 hit by pitches my freshman year. It was a lot. For me it's always been doing the little things that people notice.
What has it been like being on an eight-game winning streak, does the pressure start to build or is the momentum helpful?
It definitely helps to have that momentum and that confidence, because last year we got on a couple of losing streaks and even though we always felt like our skills were there, we just weren't very confident because we weren't winning the close games. This year getting on the winning streaks early we felt like we were good enough to win every game and we felt like we should win every game. The few games that we lost we felt like we had a chance to win.
How would you describe the attitude of the team?
We really have two sides. We have the side where we're going into the game and we've got to be serious and in it on the bench, but at the same time we have always had a light-hearted approach. We're going to have fun playing baseball because at the end of the day it's not the most important thing. You really just need to have fun. Some of the guys who haven't played as much have really done a tremendous job on the bench keeping us in it and keeping it light for us so it's not the most serious thing in the world.
Do you have any other notable interests?
I've always had a very strong interest in our country and the military. From the time that I was a kid until now I've always enjoyed being outside throwing the ball around. I was never one of those kids that sits inside, I was always outside with the neighbors playing. That really helped turn me into the kid that I am today. Hopefully the rain is gone for the season.