PHILADELPHIA – Of all the titles Joe Hartmann has had in South Jersey baseball — and there have been many for the “dean of baseball coaches” in South Jersey — he nearly had his biggest impact on the game about a decade ago.
“Believe it or not, I’m an area scout for Tampa Bay,” said Hartmann, who has held the position for major-league teams for the past 25 years. “I told them about Michael Trout when he was in eighth grade. I’m telling them, in the correct draft position, obviously everybody was following Michael, but I saw him play in seventh and eighth grade. He was good.”
The Vineland native is now considered one of the best, if not the best, in baseball. Hartmann has had an eye for talent for quite a while.
He was at Citizens Bank Park Monday night as the Rays took on the Phillies, but his appearance had nothing to do with Trout.
On this night, he was being honored for helping found the Carpenter Cup 30 years ago, a tournament that has turned out products like Trout, Mike Piazza and Phillies broadcaster Ben Davis. The Phillies play a big role in the annual event for New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware high schools, including hosting some of the games at Citizens Bank Park.
“It was a surprise,” Hartmann said of being recognized on the field before the game. “I thought all the coaches were here initially, from ’85, were going to be recognized. It turns out it’s just two people. I appreciate their kindness and recognition.”
Hartmann, 83, and executive secretary Stan Parker, were given awards for their efforts.
“So often we want to recognize people and we wait until it’s too late,” said Parker, who coached Chestnut Hill Academy (Pa.) for 23 years. “We wanted to make sure that Joe got his due. He really has been a big force in South Jersey baseball. When they sent me out with Joe, I started looking around and said, ‘Oh, those guys. They’ve done it again.’ It was a big surprise and a real thrill.”
Both have been part of the Carpenter Cup’s executive committee since Day 1, but that’s not what Hartmann is known for most in South Jersey. He is the namesake for the Joe Hartmann Diamond Classic, the most prestigious high school baseball tournament in South Jersey.
What is now a 16-team tournament began with four — Haddonfield, Cherry Hill West, Eastern and Gloucester Catholic. Hartmann played four years at Haddonfield from 1945 to 1949, coached at Eastern and started the baseball and football programs at Cherry Hill East.
His effect on South Jersey baseball has touched so many, it’s hard for him to step back and remember where it started.
“I guess it was when I started to be part of the baseball committee for the state of New Jersey in ’72 and they talked to me,” Hartmann said. “They had the county tournaments for years and said, ‘Jeez, maybe we could find some way to have the same kind of behavior.’ That’s how it really materialized.”
Hartmann is proud of what the Diamond Classic has become. He says 1,200 people came out to see the 42nd annual tournament this year.
“That’s a lot of people,” Hartmann said. “It was unbelievable and it gives the kids recognition. The two highest profile players in the (MLB) All-Star Game were two kids from New Jersey. Trout’s from South Jersey. That’s unbelievable. So proud, we are. And two class kids.”
The other is Cincinnati Reds third baseman Todd Frazier, a native of Toms River, who also went to Rutgers.
Hartmann saw the recent Home Run Derby champ as a youngster, too. He remembers a New Jersey All-Star Game quite a few years back when Frazier made quite an impression off the field.
“He was such a nice kid,” Hartmann recalled. “He came over to us coaches and said, ‘Thanks for taking time out for being part of the All-Star Game.’ That stayed with me. I didn’t know at the time this young man was going to materialize. You have so many positive things. Look, I love baseball, obviously. I still have the same enthusiasm, as I’m getting older. I enjoy coaching. I call it teaching.”
It’s paid dividends, for not only New Jersey, but also Pennsylvania and Delaware teens. At the first meeting to get the wheels rolling on the Carpenter Cup in 1985, there were big critics.
“You can’t even get a league to agree,” Parker remembers hearing. “How are you going to get three states to agree? That put a chip on our shoulder and we said, ‘We’re going to make this happen.’ To be able to overcome the obstacles, have three states come together and work together, that’s really been it. And the lifelong friends you make in baseball. I didn’t know Joe Hartmann until it started.”
Hartmann was glad to make another lifelong friend through baseball, too. He can never get enough of the sport that he’s helped build in South Jersey.
“It sounds corny,” Hartmann said, “but I just couldn’t get it out of my system.”
Dave Isaac; (856) 486-2479; firstname.lastname@example.org .