Courtesy of Matt McLagan, Caldwell SID

CALDWELL, N.J. - Former Caldwell College standout Chris Chiarappa is continuing his baseball career at the professional level and has signed with the New Jersey Jackals for the 2009 season. Chiarappa, who graduated from Caldwell College in 2008 after a stellar career as the Cougars' catcher, made his debut with the Jackals on Saturday, May 30 against the American Defenders of New Hampshire. He collected his first professional hit in the game as the Jackals defeated the Americans, 10-6 in Nashua, N.H.

The debut ended a "crazy month" for Chiarappa, who spent two weeks in Florida at the Pensacola Pelicans' spring training camp in early May. With the tryout going well, it appeared he was going to make the roster of the unaffiliated Pelicans, who play in the American Association. But the team decided to sign a veteran catcher at the end of camp and Chiarappa was left looking for another opportunity.

Fortunately, he learned through a scout that the Jackals were interested in signing a rookie catcher to fill out their roster. After traveling to Florida and also Texas before that in pursuit of his dream to play professional baseball, Chiarappa ended up finding his chance with a team that is based just seven miles from where he played his college ball.

"Signing with the Jackals worked out for me," said Chiarappa, who is from Elmont, N.Y. "This is a pretty good league, and I'm happy to be close to home. I was looking for a place to prove myself and maybe it'll lead somewhere."

The Jackals, a member of the unaffiliated Can-Am League, play in Yogi Berra Stadium on the campus of Montclair State University in Little Falls, N.J. The Can-Am League consists of teams in Little Falls and Sussex, N.J., Worcester and Brockton, Mass., Nashua, N.H., and Quebec City, Quebec.

Chiarappa spent three of his four seasons at Caldwell as the starting catcher, collecting 141 hits in 163 career games to rank seventh all-time at Caldwell. A career .291 hitter, Chiarappa had a breakout year in 2007, batting .368 with 13 doubles, four home runs and 29 runs batted in to earn first team all-Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference honors. As a senior, he recorded 50 hits and 33 RBI and was named to the all-CACC second team. A defensive stalwart behind the plate, Chiarappa gunned down 36.1 percent of would-be base stealers in 2008.

In his final two seasons, Chiarappa helped lead the Cougars to a CACC Tournament title in 2008 and a pair of appearances in the NCAA Division II Region Tournament, held in Rindge, N.H. "Every time I go to New Hampshire it rains," Chiarappa said, referring to the soggy regional tournaments as well as the wet weather that postponed his first game with the Jackals. Thursday's rainout forced the Jackals and Defenders to play a doubleheader on Saturday, and Chiarappa started behind the plate for the day's second game. He is one of two catchers on the Jackals' roster, joining veteran Matt Lauderdale, who begins his third year with the team.

"Everybody on the team is nice and personable, and they're willing to help you out any way they can," he said about his new teammates and coaches. "I'm just trying to take everything in and learn as much as possible."

Chiarappa, who is set to begin his first home series tonight against Quebec City, is looking to taking advantage of his current opportunity with the Jackals. "Teams and scouts look for experienced players, so I'm hoping this will give me the experience I need to move on from here. Hopefully this is the start of something."