In life, tragedy is the toughest obstacle to recover from. For Sky Duff, unfortunately, that meant almost losing his father, Jim.
It was the winter of Duff’s freshman year at Bishop Eustace Preparatory School in Cherry Hill, New Jersey when Jim suffered what looked to be a heart attack. Through tests, doctors found out later that his magnesium levels were low, and that he was actually suffering from colon cancer.
“At first, I was a little shook, but I knew then I really had to try my best to stay strong for both my parents, but especially my mom because she really took it hard,” Duff said. “I tried my best to really keep my emotions to myself and keep going about my business for the betterment of my family.”
This all took place before Duff’s freshman varsity baseball season. In the aftermath of the events, it took some time for Duff to get re-adjusted to normal life.
“It was really shocking because you always hear about other people having it,” Duff said. “It really puts things in perspective when it’s someone in your family that has it. [It] makes you appreciate the little things a lot more.”
Once baseball season came around, it was all business, and what happened in the winter helped focus Duff for his first season with Eustace.
“It definitely gave me a little bit of edge and more of a purpose,” Duff said.
Jim has been a big influence on the second baseman since he was young, teaching him the game and coaching him through the ranks. Now, over three years later, Jim is cancer-free and has been able to see Duff play at Eustace.
Since his freshman year, Duff has become one of the standout players, if not the star on the varsity team, not allowing his those past events to hold him back.
“Sky is playing with less on his mind in that regard, so it’s made him a little more relaxed,” Eustace head coach Sam Tropiano said. “Early on, he was just wondering if his dad would be around to see him play. Now, he’s grateful.”
At 5-feet-10 inches and 160 pounds, the second baseman doesn’t dominate physically on the field. However, he has something that Tropiano calls the “it” factor.
“The ‘it’ is so hard to describe to people what Sky has,” Tropiano said. “He just has such great instincts of the game. He’s a warrior.”
A lot of what the “it” factor has to do with intangibles, aside from the player’s raw skill. Things like leadership, mental toughness, mental awareness, thinking ahead and analyzing during games have made Duff stand out above the rest.
“Nothing ever gets Sky down,” Tropiano said. “The bigger the moment, the better the player he becomes. Very rarely do you get a kid who is both a great player and an awesome leader, someone who everyone respects and follows.”
Duff’s hard work and determination also caught the eye of college scouts; Duff recently committed to play baseball at the University of Pittsburgh last January.
Motivation is big for Duff, especially since his teammates have looked up to him over the past few years.
“It’s a tremendous factor in terms of how much the players respect him, how much he is able to motivate them, how hard he works,” Tropiano said. “This is Sky’s team. This is a very easy team to coach with him leading the way.”
It’s not just important as a leader, but also to motivate himself in a positive and successful direction.
“Being a team leader is one of the things I take pride in,” Duff said. “My parents have always stressed to me, ‘You gotta be there for your guys. Be a leader. Go out there. Take control of everything,’”
When he’s on the field, it’s all business. But Duff has learned from his father not to take the game so seriously to the point that it ruins his experience.
“My dad has always pressed into me, ‘Play your game. Don’t try to do too much. Just go out there and play, have fun and everything will fall into place,’” Duff said.
Duff, currently in the middle of his senior year at Eustace, is looking to end the season on a high note, not only for him, but for his teammates, his coaches, and most importantly, his dad.
“The ultimate goal is to win a state championship and individually, anything I can do to help our team do that,” Duff said.