Middlesex Mooney: Colts Newest (and Youngest) Head Coach Takes Over Baseball Program
Added by Philip Mathew on September 25, 2013.
During the 2010 and 2011 Middlesex County College baseball seasons, one familiar face on the diamond was first baseman Christopher “CJ” Mooney. While he left to earn his Bachelor’s Degree, Mooney is back as the new head coach of the Colts baseball program. At 23 years old, Mooney is one of (if not) the youngest head coaches in all of college sports.
Mooney played two years for the Colts program under recently retired head coach Michael Lepore, earning a First Team Academic All-American honor in his sophomore year. After starring at Rutgers-Camden the past two seasons, winning the Rawlings Gold Glove award for Division III baseball nationally and graduating Magna Cum Laude in May, Mooney looked toward his next challenge – getting into the working world.
Mooney starred on the diamond for Rutgers-Camden.
For the Milltown native and Spotswood High School graduate in 2009, getting the job was a shock since Mooney was just looking for interview experience. “It is pretty crazy…coming in, I actually wasn’t expecting to get the job,” Mooney said. “I wanted to go through the interview for experience purposes. I have the credentials and background to be a college baseball coach but I thought my age would hurt me a little.”
Relating to the players and youth are key attributes that Mooney has over most of his compatriots in Region XIX of the National Junior College Athletic Association where Middlesex plays. Division III junior colleges do not afford some of the luxuries that come with Division I schools, like dorms, athletic scholarships, full-time staff for the team, etc.
Mooney sees the advantages of his age and recent experiences being a plus as he takes over the Colts program. “I think my age definitely does help because I can relate to the players…the game changes throughout the years and I feel like I have up to date drills and new things that someone older may not have,” Mooney said.
Mooney’s beginnings at Middlesex came from a hallmark of his background and Lepore’s education. “In high school, I always had good grades and I knew the NJ Stars program was around,” Mooney said. “Coach Lepore showed interest in me and I thought it would be a good opportunity to come here (since) it was good baseball…I knew Coach Lepore was a good coach and it was an opportunity to save some money.”
Lepore’s influence on Mooney’s life and new job has been significant, since Mooney confided in Lepore that he was interested in the job and got the full support from the man who won over 350 games as Colts head coach over his 22 year career. “I would say Coach Lepore has been very influential in my life because he was one of the coaches that believed in me out of high school…if it wasn’t for him, who knows where I would have been,” Mooney said.
“He helped me look for schools, introduced me to coaches in the NJAC and always e-mailed coaches for me…I have a good relationship with him where he will do whatever he can to be there and provide advice.”
Graduating with an Associate’s Degree in Liberal Arts from MCC, Mooney moved forward to Rutgers-Camden where he started for two years at first base. He earned the team MVP award in 2011 and became the first Golden Glove winner in the history of the program in 2012, along with a third-team Academic All-American in the New Jersey Athletic Conference with a 4.0 G.P.A. C.J. graduated in May with a dual-major in Criminal Justice and Sociology at RU-Camden.
Academics is a major focus at Middlesex compared to other schools in the conference and with the addition of Mooney, the players are on notice with grades. “The main message I try to tell the players is that it is nice to have baseball now but it’s going to come to an end,” Mooney said. “If you take pride in your academics and the classroom and work hard, striving to be the best…it’s going to carry over to the field.”
Along with Lepore, the only child of John and Linda Mooney has had a strong parental support system behind him to play this game. “My dad was a big influence…he was involved in sports his whole life as an athlete, high school coach and is passionate about the game,” Mooney said. “We would go out two or three times a week and he would pitch to me, hit ground balls constantly for hours…it was almost a sense that I wanted to work hard and not let him down. I wanted to make him proud of my accomplishments.”
John Mooney coached football and wrestling at Monroe High School in the late 1970’s, before moving to East Brunswick High School in the 1980’s to coach wrestling until his retirement in 1998, to watch C.J. in his formative years.
While John put in the work, C.J. quipped about Linda’s influence on his career. “My mom likes to think my ability in baseball came from her…she was a very good softball shortstop for Rutgers in the 1970’s,” Mooney said. “She likes to say my dad put in the effort and time to build my skills but my skills came from her.”
Mooney’s parents were excited for their child earning this new role, seeing it as a good experience to learn about himself, being in charge and his father sees the opportunities ahead if C.J. is ultimately successful.
Mooney spoke about the sacrifices one has to make to play or coach in this league. “It is not very glamorous; you are not going to get a lot of media attention…you put in a lot of work and effort behind the scenes that no one really notices but the coaches’ notice and the players notice.” Mooney said. “It is like a family thing to see each other be successful.”
Mooney has always been a tough competitor, playing through multiple injuries but having to adjust to being on the bench instead of the field will be different. “It is definitely going to be tough on the other side of the game but its part of the learning process,” Mooney said.
Mooney takes a swing during his playing days at Rutgers-Camden.
“There is a time and place for pulling a player to the side if a player does something I don’t like or his behavior. If he is making physical mistakes that just happen as part of the game, you just correct that in practice and teach better form or whatever it may be.” Practices are a focus for Mooney, who wants to see fundamental baseball from his ball club once the season begins in March.
Mooney has interest from 35 players to play for him in his rookie season, but the number of pitchers (12-13) is a concern for his final roster. “I am hoping to have 14-15 pitchers along with 12 position players because I have 41-42 games scheduled for the season so there’s a lot of baseball and a lot of innings.”
Going further on the roster, sacrifice and a team concept are major components of Mooney’s plan. “I am looking for team players because I feel that is the way you are successful if there’s good team chemistry,” Mooney said. “I would rather have nine guys that have a little less talent, but work hard to get better because they are going to surpass those with talent.”
Mooney has been a lifelong Yankee fan with Derek Jeter being a favorite due to the way he plays the game and his character along with Mark Teixeira. Mooney cites Teixeira’s ability to hit and superior fielding at first base, where Mooney has played most of his career. Mooney’s football team is the Green Bay Packers, which came from playing quarterback as a youth and being a fan of Brett Farve, for whom Mooney wrote a letter at six and never got a response.
Outside of baseball, Mooney is a self-proclaimed “beach bum” who goes with friends and rents a house in Manasquan during the summer because, “You don’t have to be serious all the time, there’s time for some fun.” Mooney is looking at being a substitute teaching to supplement his job as Middlesex head coach due to his working with kids over his college career.
Mooney ended the interview stating he is single and on the market for any interested ladies, showing the youth and exuberance of a college kid but with a focus on his new job at hand.