For the love of the game – RJ Agriss

North+Penn+HS+senior+RJ+Agriss+is+hoping+his+final+year+as+a+Knight+can+last+deep+into+the+late+spring+months.+

Colin Davis

North Penn HS senior RJ Agriss is hoping his final year as a Knight can last deep into the late spring months.

TOWAMENCIN – When it comes to working hard for your dreams, look no further then North Penn High School’s own RJ Agriss. The 6’1 senior, now playing in his final games here at North Penn, is extremely appreciative of every opportunity that has come his way over the past 13 years.

Growing up, Agriss always had a sporting event to go to on the weekends. Whether it was lacing up to take on the soccer pitch in the fall, or hooping on the hardwood in the winter, there was never a dull moment when it came to sports in the Agriss household.

“From the time I was 5, I was playing sports year round. I would play soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter and then baseball in the spring and summer. It actually was not until 8th grade that baseball really took over my full interest. I quit playing soccer in the fall after my 7th grade season so I would be able to start playing baseball instead. After my 9th grade basketball season at Pennbrook, I also decided to take a step back from hooping, which also allowed me to train more for baseball year round,” Agriss said.

There are many life lessons that come with playing youth sports. Helping others grow and the fact that there is no “I” in team however, may be the most important ones. Ever since a very young age, the idea of “helping others before you help yourself,” has been drilled into Agriss’s mind by the ones close to him.

“The biggest thing that helps me today is the fact that I was always raised to help others growing up. I view it as “selfish” if I were to just go out there on the field and worry about only myself and my stats… Seeing a teammate succeed who had been struggling and turn it around for themselves by working really hard makes me far more happy than seeing myself flourish. I know how hard the mental game of baseball can be, so being able to help someone get through that makes me incredibly happy,” Agriss explained. 

Perhaps the core reasoning behind his “put others first” mentality is his own father, Ryan Sr.

“Growing up, my dad was always there for me. He would take the time out of his busy schedule and volunteer to coach my sports teams. That was very important to me” Agriss added. 

“Playing sports with my dad as my coach really allowed me to become extra close with him. I knew that he was always going to be there for me and that he would do anything to help me get better. From going to the batting cages everyday after school, to taking extra ground ball reps after a game; whatever It was that I needed in order to get better, I could always count on him to be by my side,” Agriss said.

Throughout the entirety of his baseball career, Agriss has been surrounded by some great coaches and mentors. Whether it was his dad throwing him grounders in the backyard or one the North Penn high school coaches staying after practice to get some extra work in with him. Agriss, is extremely appreciative of every single coach who has believed in and helped him along the way.

“My dad coaching me for the first 7 years really helped me a lot with my development as a player. I loved making that connection with him while always getting the opportunity to get better at the game I love. Obviously Coach Manero as well. I started going to the batting cages to work on my swing with him the summer after 8th grade. Lets just say I was not anything special. I was just a normal 8th grade boy who loved playing baseball. But Coach Manero saw something in me and would take the time out of his day to work with me. That is a testament to the kind of Coach that he is. I would definitely not be here without him,” Agriss said.

The appreciation that RJ has for North Penn baseball head coach Kevin Manero is not just a one way street either. The 10 year head coach also shares that same appreciation for one of his hardest working players.

The amount of investment that RJ has in this team and his teammates is the same amount that he started putting into himself from the first time that I met him. He is extremely dedicated to getting better and now that he is in his last year here at North Penn, he is extremely dedicated to making his teammates better as well”

— Kevin Manero - Head Baseball Coach, NPHS

“The amount of investment that RJ has in this team and his teammates is the same amount that he started putting into himself from the first time that I met him. He is extremely dedicated to getting better and now that he is in his last year here at North Penn, he is extremely dedicated to making his teammates better as well,” Manero said.

A great way to tell how invested Agriss is in this North Penn squad is just by looking at how much work he puts in with the rest of his teammates on and off the field. 

“There is no better sign of how hard RJ works than a couple weeks ago, when he could not play for a couple games; the person who stepped in was only a sophomore, but that player stepped up and was as ready as any season veteran would be. I credit RJ with a lot of that because he has been working with him side-by-side at third base all year. That is just one example of many where it shows that he is just the kind of kid that makes everyone around him better. And that is a very rare quality in athletes and that is something that is going to keep him in the game for a very long time,” Manero said.

The relationship that Agriss and Manero share is a very important one. Oftentimes, the relationship between a coach and his players has a direct correlation to the team’s success. However, in Agriss’s case, the strong bond he has with his high school coaches does not just stop at the top of the helm. 

“You also cannot forget about Coach Harris and Billet, Yanni, and Clauss. The amount of time that Harris has spent with me after practice is really just too many hours to count at this point. And then there’s Billetz. However hard it may seem like he is on us sometimes, he really has just always helped me keep going. Baseball is a hard sport, but I think the biggest thing that he has taught us is that we just need to believe in ourselves and believe that we are better than the pitcher and just keep grinding. All of them are just great coaches and more importantly, great human beings,” Agriss added. 

Playing high school baseball had always been the goal for Agriss growing up. And now that he is finally here, with only a few weeks left to play, it is hard for the senior to put into words just how much the past three years on the diamond have meant to him.

I wanted to be just like those kids at the camp. I thought they were so big and cool when I was little. And now I am that kid that I used to look up to back then and I feel like that is now a part of my responsibility as a player: to carry on that tradition, and be a role model for these younger kids”

— RJ Agriss, NPHS Senior

“It means so much to me to have been able to play at the High School level. It was something that I had been dreaming about since I first attended the Junior Knights camp in 5th grade. I wanted to be just like those kids at the camp. I thought they were so big and cool when I was little. And now I am that kid that I used to look up to back then and I feel like that is now a part of my responsibility as a player: to carry on that tradition, and be a role model for these younger kids,” Agriss said. 

If you can not tell already, baseball is the driving force in Agriss’s life. So you can imagine just how much off a toll it took on him when Governor Tom Wolf decided to cancel the spring sports season entirety just a little over a year ago.

“That was terrible. I was extremely upset. I had never felt closer with a group of guys in my entire life. It was a true punch to the gut realizing that I was never going to be able to play another game or get a final season with them. I think my favorite memory I ever experienced at North Penn was the baseball team’s 24 hours in Florida last year. Even though it did not end up like we would have liked it to, it was a great experience while we were there. Just being with the guys, down at this beautiful baseball complex in Florida, it was just so much fun. I think we were able to make the most of it while it lasted and I would not trade that time spent with the boys for the world… After that initial gut check however, it was a lot of individual work on my behalf. Doing whatever workouts I could to stay in game shape. And then a lot of tee time as well to really try to be able to hone in and repeat my swing,” Agriss said.

Usually, Agriss would look to his dad when it came to baseball related work. However, during quarantine, with his dad at work, Agriss looked more towards his mom to help improve his footwork.

“The thing that helped me the most however and I know it sounds corny but my mom and I would go out in the street and she would just hit me tennis balls with the tennis racket. My footwork was not where it needed to be last season and if I wanted to stick at third base for my senior year, I knew I was going to have to put in some extra work and this really allowed me to focus on it. I truly believe that doing this with my mom helped me so much and allowed me to make the move back over to third base after playing first my sophomore and junior year,” Agriss added. 

One positive thing that came out of Agriss’s prolonged off season, was the fact that it provided the Senior with more time to get better. While most of his teammates and peers hit the gyms and worked solely on their on the field game, Agriss, took the time out of his day to work with upcoming players, with hopes to gain knowledge of what it would be like to be a coach someday in the future.

“This past winter I was fortunate enough to be able to work for Joe Calfapietra, my private hitting coach since I was in 5th grade. I helped him give baseball lessons to kids. This is probably the best thing I could have done with my free time this offseason. The things I learned from Joe are so valuable to me, not just the physical aspects of baseball, but the mental side to go along with the coaching side. My long term goal someday is to become a baseball coach and the things I have learned from Joe and Coach Manero are invaluable. The relationships I have made with those two guys are unbelievably important to me. Also, the relationships I made with the kids I was giving lessons to is an experience I will take with me forever. To see the transformation of some of these kids I was giving lessons to from November to April was incredible. I loved every second of it. To see these quite shy kids in the beginning become more and more comfortable every week until the end of the offseason where one they have improved so much, and two they are not shy and quiet anymore. I feel like I made friendships with those kids, I love it,” Agriss said.

A lot of things are apparent when you watch Agriss out there on that baseball diamond. Perhaps the most noticeable however is just how vocal he is when it comes to leading his team on the field. 

“I always wanted to learn everything I possibly could. It never mattered if I did not play the position I wanted when I was little. I would just listen and take in all the information in that I possibly could. This has allowed me to become a leader on the field and feel confident in my ability to help my teammates; because most of the time I have been through what they are currently going through and I know how to help them get out of whatever rut they may find themselves in. More importantly, I have learned that I could be the best player in the world, but what does being a great player do for your team if you do not make the other people around you better? That is something that has always stuck with me and I try to think about that every time I step on that field,” Agriss explained. 

The bonds and connections that Agriss has made throughout his time playing baseball at North Penn, has proven invaluable to him. Whether it was this year’s team, or a team in the past, Agriss has taken each experience with solidarity. 

“I have made so many connections with the guys throughout my three years here. There is a core group of us that have been playing with each other or against each other since we were nine years old. I feel like that is special for all of us. Just being able to come up playing little league together and creating friendships that will last forever. My best friends are on this baseball team. I would not want to spend everyday with any other group of guys. This goes for last year’s team too. It is such a shame we did not get a season with that group of seniors. I loved those guys. They took me under their wing and showed me what it was like to play North Penn baseball. Now I am able to step up and take these underclassmen under my wing. It really means a lot to me to be able to do that. I want to be able to teach them everything I know so that they can be as prepared as I was in future seasons. That is the difference between building a winning program and just a singular winning team,” Agriss said.

If you know Agriss, you know just how outgoing and friendly of a person he can be. Making strong connections often comes easy to the senior and playing baseball has given Agriss yet another outlet to make more friends… More specifically however, friends who speak very highly of their fellow friend/teammate.

“RJ’s baseball IQ is next level. He knows the fundamentals of just about every position in the field. And his passion for the game runs deep as he had been coaching kids all winter. He just knows so much about the game and passes it along to anybody that will listen. All that makes him the player he is today: A smart fundamentally sound leader both on and off the field. When it comes to my game in particular however, RJ really helps me from getting in my head too much. This game is already tough enough, and sometimes the mentally barriers it can put on you is really overwhelming. Him and I hit together all the time whenever we get the opportunity to do so. The bond I have formed with him is truly indescribable,” said Binghamton commit Evin Sullivan. 

He really knows how to communicate either to certain players or to the whole team. RJ is very passionate about that kind of stuff.  He really understands how to deliver a good message to help better ourselves,”

— Sam Cohen - NPHS Senior

“Obviously over the years RJ has increased his game tremendously, the driving factor for that would definitely have to be his increase in leadership skills. He really knows how to communicate either to certain players or to the whole team. RJ is very passionate about that kind of stuff.  He really understands how to deliver a good message to help better ourselves,” said longtime friend and teammate Sam Cohen.

“I can definitely say that RJ’s leadership is his best quality. A lot of the younger guys as well as some of the upperclassmen can really learn a lot from him. RJ and I have been together for a really long time. We started playing together when we were nine so we have always been pretty close. I’d say he has definitely helped me out the most with calming myself out there. Being a pitcher, the way he helps me is obviously a little different since he is in the field, but he still helps me a lot. Since we have been playing together for so long, he can always tell when I am starting to get off track. RJ always is able to calm me down and put me back on the path I need to be on,” said Bloomsburg commit Quinn Holt.

The Knights are already off to a good start this season posting a strong 7-4 record through their first 11 games. Agriss, however, is not content with solely just a solid record.

“Well I think as a team we knew from the very beginning that the goal is to win a state championship. We have the talent needed and we are all here for the same reason. I think any individual goal I could have leads right into trying to win a chip. I don’t really have an individual agenda. It is more whatever I can to help this team win. I will do anything and everything to help get us to a State Championship,” Agriss said.

When asked about what he wanted to be remembered for here at North Penn, Agriss responded with the same goal in the back of his mind yet again, “Championship or bust”.

“I want to be remembered as the player that made everyone else around him better. Like I said individual achievements do not mean much to me if I am not bringing everyone else up with me. So I want to be remembered as the kid that made everyone else around him better. However, it would be nice to be remembered as the kid who was on the 2021 State Championship team,” Agriss joked. 

Believe it or not, baseball is not the only thing Agriss is good at. The Senior also posts a very high GPA and is involved in Link Crew and is an active member of the National Honors Society. Something Agriss takes very seriously. So when it came to picking a college, Agriss knew that he also wanted to have a good education along with playing baseball at the next level.

“I knew I wanted to play baseball in college but I also knew I wanted to study exercise science and have a good education. So that really thinned out my options of schools. But I knew when I went up to Elizabethtown for my visit that it was going to be the right school for me. It was the perfect mix of a good education and being able to study what I wanted while also, at the same time, being able to play competitive baseball at the collegiate level,” Agriss explained. 

While Agriss may be graduating and focusing on the next aspect of his life in college, he will always make sure to never forget where he has come from and always be a proud member of the North Penn family.

“I’m going to miss the whole atmosphere of North Penn. I’m going to miss being able to cheer for my friends playing sports that I have grown up with my entire life. And just the relationships I have made along the way with my friends and teachers. It is going to be hard to leave all of that behind but I know that it is just going to be a new beginning for me. The friendships and bonds that I have made with everyone along the way are truly irreplaceable. These guys that I have been playing with over these past three years, I love them, they are my brothers. Being able to play with them has made high school the best years of my life,” Agriss said.