Like most young baseball players, Jack Loefflad grew up dreaming of taking the field against a major league team.
The Somers Point resident’s dream came true last week, and it was even better than expected.
The 2015 Mainland Re-gional High School graduate and current University of Tampa sophomore catcher played against the team he’s rooted for his whole life — the Philadelphia Phillies.
The University of Tampa played the Phillies in Philadelphia’s spring training opener in Clearwater, Florida, last Thursday. The Phillies won 6-0. Loefflad, 18, caught an inning and went 0 for 1 at the plate.
“I was just trying to live in the moment and make the most of it,” he said in a phone interview this week. “It’s a surreal moment to be on the same field with those guys.”
Loefflad and his teammates toured Spectrum Field — the Phillies’ spring training home — before the game.
“We were walking around the clubhouse, and they showed us the whole complex,” he said. “That was my time to take a step back and say, ‘Wow, I’m really here right now.’”
Loefflad was a key member of the Mainland teams that won the 2014 state Group III championship and the 2015 South Jersey Group III title. He played catcher and outfield, pitched out of the bullpen and served as a captain as a senior.
“Jack did everything for us,” Mainland coach Bill Kern said. “He was the heart and soul of the team. Those games where you come back to the dugout after a bad inning and you need someone to pick you up, that was Jack. He always had a ton of fire.”
Loefflad is a walk-on at Tampa, one of the nation’s top Division II college programs. He was on Tampa’s junior varsity team as a freshman.
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“I didn’t have that many offers out of high school,” he said. “I felt that Tampa offered me a good opportunity through the JV team to end up playing college ball.”
The game against the Phillies excited nearly everyone in the Mainland baseball community. Kern and his assistant coaches watched a live stream of the contest on Tampa’s website.
Loefflad’s father, Joe, was there in person. His mother, Dana, couldn’t make the game because she’s a teacher’s aide at Jordan Road Elementary School in Somers Point.
Joe was texting Dana updates during the contest. Jack joked that his father might have been more excited than he was.
“I’ve got a few years (on Jack),” Joe said. “I’ve been watching the Phillies for more than 50 years. He’s been watching them for 18. You never expect your kid to be playing against the Phillies in college. It was a neat experience.”
Loefflad sat in the bullpen for the first couple innings warming up pitchers.
“There’s isn’t much to the bullpen,” he said. “We sat right next to the (Phillies pitchers) and talked to them.”
He entered the Phillies game in the bottom of the sixth inning. He caught as Phillies prospects Dylan Cozens, Brock Stassi and Nick Williams batted. Philadelphia scored one run that inning.
Loefflad noticed something about the Phillies hitters as soon as they stepped into the batter’s box.
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“I’ve played a lot of baseball over the years,” Loefflad said, “but there’s something different when they step in the box. They’re bigger and stronger. You never saw that intimidation or a lack of confidence. Their mindset was that they were going to win the battle with the pitcher, and even if they didn’t, they carried themselves in a positive manner.”
Loefflad got to bat in the top of the seventh. He struck out swinging against reliever Michael Mariot, who pitched for the Phillies last season.
Loefflad doesn’t play much for Tampa now. He sits behind a few senior catchers. But he hopes the experience of his day with the Phillies boosts the rest of his baseball career.
“It really gave me all the confidence in the world,” he said.