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Nick Derba: Blue chip prospect stays humble

Nick Derba collectedly waits by the gate at McClancy High School. Carrying an equipment bag and a catcher’s glove, the lean-looking senior doesn’t emit much emotion about his success. He may be the best all-around baseball player in the city next year, but Derba doesn’t like to flaunt it.

“Baseball is just a game,” the Bayside Yankees blue-chip catcher explains. “I’m having fun playing the game, but I know that a college education is a priority. This [playing the game] may not last forever, though I want it to, and I’m prepared.”

Derba is mature way beyond his years. The 16-year-old acts and plays like he’s already in college — he says the right things and handles pressure flawlessly. In the spring he had a key role in Molloy’s surprising CHSAA Championship, and carried that into the summer, using a clutch bat and sharp instincts to guide the Bayside Yankees Junior Americans to the NABF World Series last month.

The gradual improvement has turned Derba, a College Point resident, into a highly sought high school prospect. A number of Division I colleges have expressed strong interest in the 5-foot-11, 175-pound signal-caller, including St. John’s, Villanova and Boston College. Though he maintains that school is his objective, Derba can’t ignore the increasing notice.

“When I play, I really don’t think about it,” said Derba, who holds a sparkling 95 grade point average at Molloy. “But it does get me nervous.”

“He’s at the stage, defensively, that he could start for a D1 school right now,” Bayside Yankees coach Joe Kessler said. “And he wants to get better. I really expect a lot more from him next year [at Molloy].”

“I liked everything he had to offer,” Kessler added. He “always wants to play. That’s why I never take him out. He plays a little infield, some outfield and he never stops hustling.”

His small size is his only drawback — it may keep him from being a professional prospect — but Derba easily makes up for it with his astounding defense. His impeccable handling of the Molloy pitching staff, which was arguably the best in the CHSAA this season, put Derba on the map. Kessler credits Derba with keeping Bayside’s staff together.

Derba’s bat, though, has been quite effective. He hit .387 with five homers and 24 RBIs for Molloy, and batted .375 with three round-trippers and 35 RBIs with the Yankees. He came up big for the Yankees in the NABF Regional, going 8-for-15 with five RBIs.

“I haven’t accomplished anything big yet,” Derba said. “But I’m not worried about failing. If I don’t have a good season next year, I’m not going to fret over it. It happens. I just hope that I won’t hurt my team.”

In the fall, Derba has been invited to four weekend showcases — which attract a slew of pro and college scouts at Georgia Tech, Duke, Maryland and Juniper, Fla. starting in September — throughout the country. Derba has the right mindset and the right place to succeed, but he doesn’t kid himself.

“I have to be realistic,” Derba said, “and realize that my chances at playing big league baseball are slim. That makes college so much more important.”

A large number of Bayside Yankees have succeeded, including Houston Astros right-hander Pete Munro and Oakland A’s closer Billy Koch, and Kessler believes Derba is next.

“He’s a listener and a learner,” said Kessler, who had to convince Derba’s parents to enroll him with the Yankees. “You can’t teach that. He’s very special.”

Reach contributing writer Arthur V. Claps by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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