The IMG Academy Wood Bat League has had its fair share of talent come through this summer. However, Justin Novak stands out from the pack. From making his own recruiting videos to being an American living in Japan, Novak's story is unique.
Standing 5-foot-9 and weighing 155 pounds, Novak is a utility player who can fill in at virtually any position, but has flown under the rader due to his status as an international student. Instead of letting this be an excuse, Novak decided to take things into his own hands to ensure that his dreams of playing NCAA Division-I baseball in the United States could become a reality. Unlike most colleges who rely on recruiters to seek out new talent prospects, Novak didn’t have that luxury.
Born in Tokyo to a Japanese mother and an American father, Novak moved to Texas for several years because his father’s military base was stationed there. After a few years, his dad retired from the military to work for the U.S. embassy, and his family returned to Tokyo, where he has lived ever since.
In order to garner college exposure, Novak enlisted the help of his teammate to make highlight videos showcasing their talents. The two would send their tapes out to all of the colleges they were interested in, and during the summer, attend as many college camps as possible. After participating in a camp at the University of Virginia, the coaching staff was especially impressed with Novak’s performance. They invited him back the following summer and offered him a scholarship after his sophomore year.
"Virginia was one of my dream schools so I was happy about being given the chance to play there and receive a scholarship,” Novak said.
The 17-year-old feels as if his experience in Japan has made him more “college-ready.” Being at an international school has allowed him to interact with kids from all over the world. On his baseball team, there were no less than nine countries represented.
“It helped me to be able to pick up on things quicker,” Novak said.
The challenges of being on such an internationally diverse team means that he has learned to communicate effectively through hand gestures. This has helped prepare him for baseball at the next level, because he is already adept at interpreting complex signals.
Compared to American baseball, Novak explained that Japanese players have to rely more on their technique and fundamentals to gain an edge since they are not as big as Americans.
“I feel like I have gotten the best of both worlds because I have been able to train in Japan and learn the fundamentals, but also adapt to the aggressiveness of American baseball,” Novak remarked.
Coming to IMG Academy to train this summer has also prepared Novak for the college lifestyle. He chose IMG Academy because of its training facilities, quality of coaching and commitment to all-around player development through mental conditioning, leadership training and even nutrition classes.
“Justin is a hard worker and a leader out there on the field,” said IMG Academy’s Conquistadors Wood Bat League Coach and former first basemen for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Justin Byler. “He is very skilled and brings a lot of knowledge.”
The rigorous training schedule showed Novak just what to expect in college.IMG Academy has also trained him to manage his time more efficiently, as he will have to maneuver from workout to practice to class all in a short period of time at the next level.
“Because of the way IMG Academy is set up with their training schedule, I realized I could maximize 20 minutes and get a lot more accomplished instead of being lazy,” Novak explained.
Novak’s passion for the game stems from when he was much younger.
“My older brother is nine years older than me and played baseball,” Novak said. “He now works for the MLB in Japan, which is where I want to end up someday. He was a pitcher, so I always wanted to catch for him.”
Although Novak’s main position is catcher, his versatility allows him to shine in any position. He takes pride in his ability to play anywhere and believes it makes him a favored player on the field with any coach.