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Jake Francis: They Broke The Mold
Sara Courtney

It was Monday’s playoff game against rival Lawrenceville, and Pingry’s Jake Francis ’23 was pitching. Even with the palpable team energy, the hoots and hollers and ribbing between bonded teammates, he cut a lonely figure on the mound. Standing there, 60 feet and 6 inches away from home plate, he stared down each batter with a quiet intensity that sent one bat after another whiffing through the air as his 91 mph fastball found the awaiting glove of catcher Joaquin Stevenson ’25. One strikeout turned to two. Then four. Soon six, then seven. By the time he stepped off the pitching mound for the final out of the game, Jake Francis had 16 strikeouts and Pingry had its first playoff win.

A senior in the last few weeks of his high school days, Jake is Villanova bound, with boundless opportunities beyond. But all that was a distant thought during the Prep A tournament game against Lawrenceville on Monday, where Pingry notched a 4-0 victory. Was it his unflappable focus that led to a career high 16 strikeouts? His continuous training that saw him constantly tweaking and elevating his performance? A work ethic that drove him to be the first to show up and last to leave the field? Vacillating between bursts of unnerving intensity and an almost detached, playful air, he isn’t the first athlete to mystify the opponent and cause a crowd to quiet down.

As his Pingry baseball career comes to a close, it is hardly winding down. He is at 89 career hits, with a career batting average of .400. His ERA is 0.51, with a career total 198 strikeouts, four no-hitters, and one perfect game. In a recent hard-fought battle against Oratory Prep, he drove in all 6 RBIs of the game, with a 2-run homer in the first inning, and a grand slam in the seventh inning. “Francis Does It All” blared a recent headline, after Jake went 2-4, with three RBIs and two runs scored in a game against Voorhees. It was accompanied by a photo of Jake in pinstripes, an auspicious image no doubt. Through it all, he has maintained a preternatural calm, as if throwing 91 mph fastballs and hitting home runs is simply to be expected.

The definition of preternatural, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is “that which appears outside or beside the natural”; that which is “suspended between the mundane and the miraculous”. And so it is with Pingry’s pitching ace, who skipped the mundane and went straight for the miraculous when he stepped onto the pitching mound nine years ago—quite literally half his lifetime—and never looked back.

As Pingry’s Varsity Baseball Head Coach Anthony Feltre, puts it:

“When they made Jake Francis, they broke the mold.”


Jake Francis was always drawn to baseball. He played other sports growing up, including basketball up until his sophomore year in high school. But there was something about the game of baseball that appealed to his work ethic and inner drive. “I really love the difficult aspect of it,” he admits. “Nothing was ever really easy in baseball.”

It has been said many times that baseball is a game of failure. Trying to hit a baseball—which has a diameter of slightly fewer than three inches—while it travels at a velocity of 91 mph and then, for just a fraction of a second, becomes hittable within a strike zone that is roughly 17 inches wide and 19 inches high—is notably so difficult that when a batter fails to hit the ball seven out of 10 times, he is still considered Hall of Fame worthy. For anyone who doubts the sheer scale of consistent failure and micro successes it takes to succeed in baseball, just consider that no less than the greatest athlete ever, Michael Jordan, couldn’t quite cut it in baseball, even though he tried.

When it comes to all those inevitable failures in baseball, Jake is circumspect. “It teaches you so many life lessons about how to conquer different problems—in life and on the field—and about being mentally tough enough to deal with failure.” When the team doesn’t get the outcome they want, he accepts responsibility, whether it was his to take or not. “That’s what I could have controlled,” he points out. Coach Feltre, who selected Jake as a Varsity Captain this year, along with outstanding senior Nick Lorenzo ’23, believes Jake’s burden of responsibility is at the heart of his ability to get better and better. “He takes the blame for everything,” says Coach Feltre, “but not outwardly. He’s the ultimate team player.” This became evident when Jake explained the last game of the season last year, a loss that had many contributing factors, none of which he mentioned. “I didn’t like the way I pitched,” he said, closing the subject politely.

Baseball is a game of inches. An inch can be all the difference between a strike or a ball; a celebrated home run or a lonely walk back to the dugout; a stolen base or an umpire’s thrilling “YERRRRR OUTTT!” It is the little things that count in life, and in baseball, it’s no different. Yet it is the ability to tolerate the idiosyncrasies of all those accumulating inches that often makes the difference.



Jake grew up in a sports-playing family. The oldest of three siblings, his younger sister, Taylor Francis ’25, plays softball and basketball, and his younger brother, Connor Francis ’25, plays varsity baseball alongside him. His mom, Susan, attends every game. His parents have a longstanding baseball rivalry, with his mom’s side of the family being devoted Yankees fans, and his dad, Paul, a stalwart Red Sox fan. And so, as a child, Jake carefully weighed this hotbed of divided loyalties before diplomatically siding with his grandfather (a Yankees fan, for the record).

He started pitching in Little League and moved around to different positions, settling in at shortstop. Pretty soon, he was going to the batting cages in his spare time, and, at the age of nine, began training with Coach Feltre at Zoned Sports Academy, calling the training “huge to my development”. With competitive club baseball, his season expanded from the typical baseball schedule of just spring to include summer and fall. The driving force behind all this extended training? Himself.

His dad, Paul—the more “conservative” one—had concerns about the long hours, which sometimes saw Jake quietly doing his homework until two in the morning. His mom, Susan, kept an eye on his academics, reasoning that the training was his “livelihood” and he should be allowed to continue as long as he could balance being a student-athlete. “Did I ever have to push Jake for his training? Never,” she says emphatically.

Ultimately, his supportive parents were along for the ride. “They pushed me to be the best I could be,” he says. “They never forced anything on me. I think they could tell that I loved it. And they gave me a lot of resources to help me get better, which I thank them for a lot.”

“It wasn’t always easy for him,” says Susan. “When he started playing baseball, he was the youngest one on the team. The kids were bigger and a year older. And he probably got less opportunity because he had to prove himself. It made him want to work harder.” Despite being younger than the big kids, Jake quietly committed himself to outworking everyone else. “If you talk to the coaches who have known him a long time, they would all say there wasn’t a harder-working kid.”

He came to Pingry as a freshman and made the Varsity Baseball Team that year. He began training at RPP, with one of his parents making the hour-long drive from his hometown of Westfield to Paramus nearly every day. When he got home past 10:00 at night, he would start on his school work. Despite some concerns from his dad about the lengthy training schedule, he maintained straight As. “Being an athlete at Pingry really teaches you time management, because you have a really academic, rigorous schedule,” says Jake. He approached his schoolwork with the same unflappable focus he brought to the pitching mound.

“Jake makes it look easy,” says Susan, seemingly just as mystified as those sixteen Lawrenceville batters who struck out.



Alex Payne ’24 was considering his baseball captain. “I think Jake, when he’s off the field and on the field, is two totally different people,” he explains carefully. “Off the field, he is too nice. He is that super-nice guy who is going to be nice to you no matter what,” he observes. “On the field? Always under control. He’s very competitive. He has a competitive edge and he is not afraid to do whatever it takes to win.” It’s that competitive edge that Alex is trying to pinpoint. Even under the most intense pressure, Jake seems unusually calm. “He’s just really good at staying composed,” Alex says. “Even where other guys might lose their temper—he’s just as competitive as those people—but he’s able to keep it in check, and it helps him.”

For Jason Weaver ’23, who’s known Jake since they were freshmen on the baseball team, it’s his ability to “stay calm and cool” that is so important to the team, pointing to the team’s win over Voorhees, when the cold and windy conditions were less than ideal for pitching, yet Jake still struck out nine. “Nothing ever phases him,” he says.

Catcher Joaquin Stevenson ’25 thinks it’s his “level headedness” that sets him apart. Whether the team is winning or losing, he remains even keeled. “He never loses focus on the mound,” he says. “Bad pitch? He’ll get the next one.” It is the relentlessness of his focus that stands out to Pingry’s catcher. “He is just after it all the time.”

It all comes down to trust, Alex figures. “What makes him so great is he trusts himself. He trusts his ability.” This is no easy feat in baseball, a game made of high-pressure win-or-lose moments. To keep one’s composure as these moments add up catches the attention of even other athletes. And, as captain, he tries to pass this calm on to his teammates. “If I make a mistake—like if I make an error at first—he’ll pick me up right away,” says Alex. “He doesn’t want it to bother me. He wants you to know he has your back no matter what.”

“The whole team feels and plays better when he’s on the mound,” says Joaquin, before quickly clarifying that it’s not an indictment of anyone else’s pitching, but rather a reflection of the way he elevates those around him. “He’s the heart and soul of the team.”

Some call it grace under pressure. A demeanor that remains unruffled in even the most challenging of circumstances. But in sports, oftentimes ease and calm belies an intense drive to win. “Some people say even if I’m winning or losing, I look the same,” says Jake. “But the competitiveness there never varies. It’s just for me. I know I’m going to play my best when I’m calm.”

As Ken Griffey, Jr. once said, “Just because I made it look easy, doesn’t mean that it was.”



It was his junior year of high school when colleges started recruiting. He had offers from Division III and Ivy League schools for fielding and hitting, but he was determined to study business while in college, so he held out for the right fit. Then, Pingry’s Varsity Pitching Coach A.J. Passaro, whose brother went to college with Villanova’s Head Baseball Coach Kevin Mulvey, reached out to the head coach. “I sent his stuff over to Coach Mulvey and told them everything,” he said. “All they needed to see were a few clips and then they saw him at a camp. They loved what they saw.”

Form III/IV Dean of Student Life Robert Hoepfl had been a recruited athlete, and he knew the experience had its ups and downs. “It’s great. But it’s stressful, too,” he says. “In a lot of ways, it’s a deep breath of relief, right? Because you train from the time you’re six, seven, eight years old. But it’s also stressful because you’re 16 or 17, you’re talking to adults, and you don’t necessarily have the whole picture. Does the school have both the athletics and the academics you want? There’s just a lot of things to figure out.” Jake, who played basketball for Dean Hoepfl, wound up checking in with him regularly throughout the process, talking through all the pros and cons of the different offers.

Throughout the many conversations on where his future lay, Dean Hoepfl was a steady voice. “Dean Hoepfl knew there was no question Villanova was the right program,” says Susan. Ultimately, Jake concluded the same and committed to Villanova during his junior year. He then set about working toward acceptance into their competitive business school, which was separate from his admittance to the university itself. He took on challenging calculus and economics classes, and, just before early decisions came out, he received a phone call congratulating him on his admittance to the business school. It was the realization of a lifelong goal.“His dream was always to play at the highest level of baseball without sacrificing academics,” says Susan.

As he readies himself to leave behind the community he’s called home for so many years, he is as busy as ever. He regularly goes to Zoned Sports Academy, the place where he first met Coach Feltre half his lifetime ago, and where he now spends his limited free time training young aspiring pitchers. When Jake is on the mound, Dean Hoepfl is often in the crowd, flanked by his younger sons, each decked out in Villanova gear, a gift from their babysitter—Jake. For his mom, Susan, she takes her seat near the dugout of every game, and finds herself reflecting more and more on his personality. “He sees the good in everyone,” she says, “which is not easy as a teenager right now.”

His entire family is readying themselves for his college career. “It’s going to be different,” says his dad, Paul. “The house is going to be really different.” For his younger brother, Connor, next year’s baseball team won’t be quite the same without his brother in the dugout. “He’s been a role model,” he says quietly. “He is definitely someone I look up to.” As for his sister, Taylor, who plays shortstop (“like he used to”) and basketball (also, like he used to), and who calls him her “biggest supporter”, she is looking forward to going to his games next year. “And maybe in the coming years,” she says, with just a tinge of competitiveness, “Who knows, maybe I’ll have the opportunity to be on the softball field at Villanova or somewhere close by, so we can cheer each other on.”


It was a game against Belvidere High School, and 16-year-old Jake Francis was making his debut for Pingry’s Varsity Baseball Team. Even with the shouts and cheers and rival jeers for the tall and lanky sophomore, he cut a lonely figure on the mound. Standing there, 60 feet and 6 inches away from home plate, coolly staring down each batter with a preternatural calm well beyond his years, he sent one bat after another swinging through the air. One strikeout turned to two. Then four. Soon six, then seven. By the time the game ended early in a mercy rule after five innings, Jake Francis had 12 strikeouts and Pingry had its newest pitching ace. In his inaugural debut, he threw no less than a perfect game.

To paraphrase St. Thomas Aquinas, miraculous endings rarely have mundane beginnings. He is on his way, moving forward at a velocity to match his pitching speed, ready to go, yet not quite ready to say goodbye. Would the forward-thinking ace pause just this once to look back?

“Baseball is a game I’ve loved my whole life,” he says, somewhat wistfully. “It helped me get into college. I’ve spent countless hours training...” and at that, he trails off, lost in thought. Through it all, he has never lost sight of the way all those inches in the game of baseball can add up. “There are so many ways to be successful in a game where there is so much failure.” 

Next year will be the first time in nine years that Coach Feltre won’t be training Jake. He is thoughtful about it all. “There is not another kid like him,” he says emphatically. “Based on his demeanor, his baseball, his athletics, his academics—everything. He’s that good of a kid.” Does he expect to see another player like him soon? “I have not seen anybody like him, ever.”

And so, from auspicious beginnings to unwritten endings, Jake Francis steps off the pitching mound and into history—at Pingry, then Villanova—ready to make the mundane miraculous.



Contact: Sara Courtney, Communications Writer