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The unforgettable high school days of Kim Ng

From the sounds of it, she could've been a GM as a teen
Kim Ng as the shortstop for Ridgewood (N.J.) High School in 1986. (PHOTO: Mike Grattini/USA TODAY NETWORK. ART: Tom Forget)
@MattMonagan
November 18, 2020

"She was her own person since Day 1," former Ridgewood High School softball and tennis coach Deborah Paul recalls, seemingly glowing through the phone at the mention of Ng. "Very focused, wonderful family. She was a phenomenal student. Even if you had never met her before, you'd know right away

"She was her own person since Day 1," former Ridgewood High School softball and tennis coach Deborah Paul recalls, seemingly glowing through the phone at the mention of Ng. "Very focused, wonderful family. She was a phenomenal student. Even if you had never met her before, you'd know right away she had her stuff together."

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Kim Ng was recently hired as GM of the Miami Marlins -- the first woman to take on that position in MLB history. She's received congrats from everyone from Billie Jean King to former First Lady Michelle Obama.

It's an awesome moment, and almost everyone agrees it was a long time coming: her wealth of experience and baseball smarts could've, and probably should've, made her the GM for any of the handful of teams that interviewed her over the last 20 years.

But what if we told you those unique leadership skills and deep knowledge and love of sports went back even further? Like to her early years of high school?

Thirty-five years ago, Ng was a student-athlete at New Jersey's Ridgewood High School. I spoke to her now-retired tennis and softball coach Deborah Paul to give us insight into what Ng was like as a teenager.

First Impression

"Kim was amazing in everything," Paul tells me. "And you only had to say it once. She was a student of the game before she came to me, because of her father, because of all the stickball in Queens. ... As calm as you're ever gonna see any athlete."

There's a reason Ng felt like she needed to forge her own path: She lost her biological father (a baseball nut) at age 11, so Ng took on the added role of mentoring and setting an example for her four younger sisters at a very young age. She was forced to step up at the age of 12, when the family packed up their lives and moved from Queens to a brand new town and school in New Jersey. Those leadership traits naturally transferred over to athletics, and teammates immediately recognized the hard work and fearless attitude the 14-year-old displayed during her high school days.

Although she was only a teen, Paul says she was just as inspiring and respected as she is today.

"She always put her best foot forward," Paul says. "She reaped a lot of benefits from that, respect and admiration from teachers, opposing coaches and teammates. I think that what she displayed in that [Marlins] press conference is what you saw back then. She's smoothed it out as an almost 52-year-old now, but, believe it or not, she was like that in high school."

A natural softball star

Ng was a middle infielder on the diamond, showing off a mix of leadership skills and scrappiness (she once told her younger sister she knew she'd played hard only if her uniform was dirty). Second base was her position when she joined the team in '84 and, by senior year, she was the starting shortstop. She was also very "analytical" about everything and seemed to have a natural feel and knowledge of the game.

"I gave her free reign on the bases," Paul says. "She was so smart and could read catchers. Lots of delayed steals."

Paul wanted to make her the three hitter because she could, well, hit, but she was forced to bat her leadoff.

"Her on-base percentage was ridiculous," Paul remembers, laughing. "She just knew what to do, how to work the pitcher, what to do with runners on base. She knew the game. You know, a lot of girls like to play, but they don't know the game. With Kim, you'd start saying the sentence and she'd finish it for you."

There was a specific instance in her senior year when the team was struggling midseason. Ridgewood eventually got themselves out of the funk and got to the state championship game -- where they lost, 2-1. Paul was shocked her team overcame their losing streak to get there, but she, of course, knew why.

"It was Kim. It was absolutely Kim," Paul says.

Ng was devastated by the title loss, as she was any time she lost, but her coach had words for her after the season-ender.

"I was like, 'Hey, you pulled us through here, all by yourself, so be happy,'" Paul remembers.

Paul notes Ng's steady nature and perseverance, even when down one or two runs in the final inning, as pivotal to inspiring the rest of the team.

Kim Ng (No. 1) and her Maroons teammates prepare for a state playoff game in 1986. Mike Grattini/USA TODAY NETWORK

A winner on the tennis court

Ng played on the doubles team, impressing a coach who wasn't sure she'd even picked up a racket before freshman year.

"Let's just say this: Ridgewood High School tennis had been successful and we had professional tennis instruction for the kids in that town from Day 1 of their lives," Paul says. "Obviously, Kim moved in later and didn't have some of the same tennis lessons the other kids had, but she was, well, an athlete. And very bright."

She was a "competitor." Even though Ng may not have had the practice and everyday, hands-on instruction like the other kids, she wanted to be good. She had to be good. And so, she would be good.

"Yeah it was like, 'OK, if you wanna win, if you wanna make some All-Star teams here or league teams, you gotta play with Kim,'" Paul tells me. "That's kinda what happened. She was a great doubles player and kids wanted to play with her because she knew where to be on the court. All you had to do was tell her one time what she needed to do, and you never had to repeat it."

Even girls she out-competed for a spot still sing her praises.

"I never saw her lose herself ever, and she was in some big tennis matches at the state tournament level," Paul says, proudly.

Sounds like a similar attitude to one of Ng's tennis idols, Martina Navratilova, who's now, amazingly, telling Ng how cool she is.

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Ng would go on to be a four-year varsity softball player at the University of Chicago, but, like most GMs, it was more what was going on in her fantastic baseball mind -- something apparent from high school -- than how she played on the field that impressed everyone around her.

She took an internship with the White Sox the year she graduated, fell in love with the operations side of the game and, finally, has the job she was born to have.

In her four decades of coaching, Paul hasn't seen many like her.

"I've seen two or three people I've put in that bag, and she's one of them."

Matt Monagan is a writer for MLB.com. In his spare time, he travels and searches Twitter for Wily Mo Peña news.