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Tony Santa Maria contributing substantially in return to diamond for hometown Rutgers baseball team

Redshirt sophomore Tony Santa Maria's impact has been felt in Rutgers baseball's hot start to the 2024 season. – Photo by Christian Sanchez

Redshirt sophomore infielder Tony Santa Maria of the Rutgers baseball team had a lot of free time last year after missing the majority of the season due to an injury. So, what did he decide to do with all of that spare time on his hands?

"I did pick up how to learn how to play the guitar," Santa Maria said. "I'm sitting in my apartment just doing rehab, lot of free time on my hands. So, that was one of the little things that I picked up."

Santa Maria, who dazzled for the Scarlet Knights in 2022 with a .303 batting average, 10 home runs and 69 runs batted in (RBI) only played in five games last season.

He entered the 2024 season with high aspirations, determined to make up for his absence.

"I feel awesome," Santa Maria said. "After missing all of last year, (it) feels really nice to be able to come back out here, especially with everybody else."

The infielder, hailing from Absecon, New Jersey, quickly returned to the diamond with a vengeance, homering twice and totaling 6 RBI in a season-opening victory over Winthrop.

Santa Maria has been a huge part of Rutgers' success, as the Knights started off the season 10-2 and now sit at 17-7 which puts them at third in winning percentage across the Big Ten.

In the team's first 24 games, Santa Maria has swatted a team-leading eight home runs and driven home a team-leading 30 RBI. As of March 25, Santa Maria is at the top of the conference in long balls.

With these stats, one might assume that Santa Maria sees himself as one of Rutgers' top power hitters, but the redshirt sophomore remains humble.

"I think sometimes (in batting practice), I don't really hit the ball over the fence too much. I have a little punch in this little small package of mine," Santa Maria said. "I don't consider myself a power hitter, but when it happens, it happens."

Most recently, Santa Maria's seventh-inning solo home run in game one of the UConn series last Friday served as the game-winner. Once again, Santa Maria came up in a clutch moment for his team.

"Being able to do my part, that's just what I try to do every day," Santa Maria said. "Come out here, be competitive, try to be the same player every day, stay consistent."

His play has garnered praise from head coach Steve Owens.

"He's got a really fast bat. He's aggressive, he handles velocity pretty well and then, he also can hit the slider," Owens said. "And he's explosive. He can hit a double, down that line or over there. He uses the whole field really well, and he's just bigger and stronger than he has been too."

The Knights' flaming hot bats have propelled them to some impressive, high-scoring wins to begin the season. Rutgers leads the Big Ten in batting average (.333), hits (294) and runs (219), and Santa Maria is one of the key pieces of it all.

After transferring from Iona before the 2022 season, he's content with the team he steps up to the plate for in his second official season on the Banks.

"This is the best decision I've made," Santa Maria said. "Just representing New Jersey, playing for your hometown school. It means a lot for me to wear the 'R' on (my) chest."

For more updates on the Rutgers baseball team, follow @TargumSports on X.

To view more of Josh Meyers' work, follow @JoshCMeyers on X.

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