By Phil Anastasia
Jeremy Lopez is a little guy with big dreams: He can imagine himself playing shortstop for the New York Mets or pitching for the Boston Red Sox.
Lopez also is a young man with an older's man wisdom: He knows he'll never play in the major leagues and that education is his path to a better future.
The Pennsauken Tech senior might not be a great baseball player. But he's a great example to his schoolmates, his teammates and everybody else in South Jersey sports.
He's a 5-foot-1, 110-pounder who breaks up fights. He's a kid from the hard streets of Camden who gets straight As in the classroom. He's a three-sport athlete who is the president of the National Honor Society.
Lopez has been the leader of his baseball team since he first took the field as a four-foot-nothing freshman.
"I knew he was a special kid the first day he came out," Pennsauken Tech baseball coach Jon Repece said of Lopez. "He was this little freshman and he was helping all the other kids."
Lopez runs cross country and bowls for Pennsauken Tech. But baseball is his favorite sport. He learned the game in Camden, playing in the Cramer Hill Little League program.
He's a student of the sport, fundamentally sound in the infield, savvy on the pitching mound.
Lopez batted .386 as a junior with 27 hits, 23 runs and 14 steals. He struck out just three times. On the mound, where he's been the team's ace since his sophomore year, he was 4-6 with 32 strikeouts in 58 innings.
"He got the ball in every one of our big games," Repece said of Lopez, who got the win with four strong innings of work in Wednesday's 8-1 victory over Lindenwold in Pennsauken Tech's season opener.
What makes Lopez so unique is his sense of perspective and wide range of interests. He has studied carpentry at Pennsauken Tech, and works with the school's maintenance crew, but he plans to attend college.
And as much as he loves baseball, he knows the game isn't his future.
"I understand reality," Lopez said. "I love playing but I know I'm not some phenom that's going to be playing pro sports. I understand that education is the second-best thing."
Lopez said he's lived in the same area of East Camden, near 34th Street and Westfield Avenue, since he was five years old. He credits his family with helping him avoid the lure of the streets.
"It's hard," Lopez said. "There so much negativity. I'll come home in my baseball uniform and there will be people asking me if I want to buy marijuana. There's so much negativity, people trying to make money anyway they can.
"But my family don't play that. They see the potential in me."
Repece said Lopez has missed one baseball practice in four years. It happened earlier this season.
"He called me and said he was up three times during the night throwing up," Repece said. "He said, 'Coach, I don't think I can make school.'
"So at 10:30 I see him in school. He's like, 'Coach, I don't think I can make practice but I've got a big history test tomorrow and the teacher is doing a review after school so I have to make that.'"
Pennsauken Tech assistant principal Greg Cappello said Lopez is part of a "peer mentoring" program at the school that specializes in conflict resolution between two students or two groups of students.
He said Lopez walks tall down the halls.
"Jeremy is a special young man," Cappello said. "He's been a leader since he was a freshman. The students look up to him as a role model. He's one of the best we've ever had come through here."
Contact Phil Anastasia at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @PhilAnastasia on Twitter.