Since she came on the scene as a freshman pitcher in 2012, Caldwell’s Cayla Lombardi has worn uniform No. 7.
While that’s always been a popular number, in general, Lombardi’s attachment to it goes far before she was born. Cayla’s grandfather, Carl Lombardi, was once an outstanding baseball player in the New York Yankees’ farm system.
In 1950, Carl, a catcher, played minor league ball with none other than Mickey Mantle, for the Yankees’ minor league affiliate, the Joliet Miners. The friendship established between Mantle and Carl would last for 45 years, before Mantle’s death in 1995.
Carl Lombardi would play three years in the Yankees minor league system. Carl’s son, also Carl, would marry the former Dr. Kathleen Caldwell, and the couple would have two children, Jake and his younger sister, Cayla.
Cayla was as intense a competitor as there was in 2015.
At an early age, Cayla would meet Mantle’s son, David. And throughout her young life, Cayla would learn the game of baseball from her beloved grandfather, whom she always called “Nookie”, as well as her dad.
A younger Cayla, here with David Mantle, son of the late Mickey Mantle. (Photos courtesy of Carl Lombardi)
“My grandfather and I were always very close,” recalled Cayla. “He always took care of me. Nookie died before I started high school. He was very special to me.”
Honoring her grandfather by wearing No. 7 was certainly easy for Lombardi, who went on to a spectacular high school career as Caldwell’s top pitcher.
She would lead the Chiefs to a pair of Super Essex Conference Liberty Division titles, including this past season, when Caldwell finished with an outstanding 22-7 mark.
Cayla was the winning pitcher in all of her team’s wins, as she helped guide the Chiefs to the state sectional semifinals.
Cayla in her familiar pitching rotation.
“It was a good year,” she said. “We had a really close-knit team and everyone got along. A good example was in our (state sectional quarterfinal win) against Ridgefield Park. They went ahead when one of their players homered off of me, and the place was really loud. We came back, with Christina Guarino hitting a homer, and it got even louder. It was a lot of back and forth, and I liked the way our team hung in there and found a way to win.”
Many who followed Lombardi’s high school career will recall an unfortunate incident in her sophomore year, when Cayla took a line drive off her head while pitching in a game. The injury kept her out of the lineup for the rest of that season.
It’s something Lombardi doesn’t recall to this day, but admits she had trepidation in returning for the 2014 season.
“It was something that I realized would probably never happen again,” Lombardi said. “You think of all the times a pitcher throws in a game and how often someone gets hit with a ball in the circle. It happened to me, and while I was ready to come back, I admit being a little nervous about it.”
With the support of a catcher’s-type mask, Lombardi was pitching effectively in 2014. (“The mask was really annoying at times,” she said).
And in the 2015 season, Lombardi had more strikeouts than what she recorded, combined, from 2012-2014. She finished with over 200 strikeouts in her career.
Cayla made the pink crocks popular, wearing them after games this season.
Lombardi’s coach, Mike Teshkoyan, couldn’t have been happier with Lombardi’s career.
“I don’t think most people realized how much Cayla had to overcome to be able to pitch this season,” Teshkoyan said. “She conquered odds that others would find insurmountable, and she did it with courage, dignity and grace while never once complaining or feeling sorry for herself.
“She came out for soccer again last fall and stuck it out until she was physically unable to continue, yet I knew she would do everything she could to reach her goal of finishing up her career on the field, surrounded by her teammates who loved playing with her.”
Teshkoyan also noted that Lombardi’s ability to play at full capabilities this season was important.
“Returning to our softball team wound up being the best thing for her because it gave her a renewed energy,” Teshkoyan said. “She felt like her old self, and it was heart warming seeing her in her element doing what she loved to do. It was easy to root for her and I had total faith that she would give her teammates everything she had and she wound up saving her best for last.”
Lombardi’s ability to pitch in close games and preserve leads for Caldwell this year was tremendous.
“She made me a better coach and I wanted to do my best for her,” said Teshkoyan, the winningest coach in Essex County history and among the top in victories, in state history. “Our dinner was very emotional and tears flowed knowing that this senior group was finished on the field, but they represented what Caldwell softball is all about, and I will miss her and her classmates very much. We won’t soon forget this exciting season and will talk about this group for years to come.”
Lombardi’s respect for Teshkoyan and his brother, assistant coach, Mark, was heartfelt.
“They’re both very good coaches and tremendous people, in general,” she said. “I love them both. They’re gentlemen.”
Cayla will be attending Seton Hall University this fall, where she will focus on a career in Nursing. While she doesn’t plan on trying out for the softball team there, the thought of playing club ball is appealing.
“I really enjoyed playing, and I’d like to continue playing club ball in college,” she said. “I can see myself coaching one day, too. You never know.”
It was a pleasure watching Cayla pitch for the past four years, and I’d like to wish her all the best in the next stage of her career. She’ll always be No. 7 to me.