by Tom Pedulla –
Julian Guzman of Sleepy Hollow is 10 years old. He stands 4-foot-9 and weighs 85 pounds. He is not afraid to dream big.
When Guzman speaks of his desire to play in the major leagues someday, the thought does not seem far-fetched. Already he is playing at an elite level after he was selected to compete this summer for the Top Tier Americans.
He is a switch-hitting shortstop with speed to spare. The right-hander also pitches. He received word last Christmas that he had been chosen for the Americans’ 10-and-under team after impressing coaches during tryouts.
“It was the best Christmas present,” said Guzman. “I was just excited and proud of myself that I accomplished something.”
He is a wonderful reflection of his parents and the values they are instilling. His mother, Cindy, was a standout softball player at Sleepy Hollow High School. His father, Mario, played shortstop and pitched for Sleepy Hollow before he graduated in 2000 and advanced to the Division 1 level at Marist.
Although Mario is well known and highly respected for his volunteer work as a local baseball coach, he admitted it had been difficult to evaluate his son until recently.
“I knew he was good. He works hard,” the father said. “I just didn’t know where he stood with the rest of the kids in the country. But he handled himself well, and now he’s competing against them. It’s a learning process throughout.”
Guzman caught the attention of the Americans’ coaching staff with his speed and switch-hitting ability. He participated in a running drill that included boys two years older. He was keeping pace when a coach saw he was capable of more.
“Separate yourself!” the coach exclaimed.
Guzman found another gear and was gone.
As for a 10-year-old who hits effectively from both sides of the plate? Well, that is special, too.
“Righty, I’d say I hit more for power,” Guzman said. “Lefty, I hit more for contact.”
His parents push him only in their insistence that he give the game everything he has. Mario urges him to hustle on and off the field and to be sure to cheer for teammates. They understand that a lot is being asked of their son at a tender age.
“What we try to teach him to do,” Mario said, “is to become comfortable in uncomfortable situations.”
Guzman is accustomed to success. His parents warned him there may be times he struggles with the Americans. Top major league hitters who bat .300 make out seven of every 10 at-bats.
“Baseball is about failure. It’s not about success,” Cindy said. “And that is why not everybody can play it.”
Guzman’s sister, Ava, shows promise as a softball pitcher at Sleepy Hollow. She will be entering eighth grade. The emphasis with both children is the same.
“Our main question is ‘Do you want to do this?’ If you don’t want to do it, you don’t do it,” Cindy said. “We never force our kids to do anything.”
She and Mario emphasize the importance of school, particularly with the increasing challenges their son faces.
“I hope he goes as far as his dreams are,” Cindy said. “But, as a mother, I just want him to have a great education. If baseball is in his future, beautiful. If it’s not, beautiful, too. I just want him to have a great education, be a great father and a good man.”
When Guzman was asked if he believes he can eventually play in the major leagues, his answer was filled with determination.
“It will be possible,” he said.