One Size Doesn't Fit All

At 6 feet 7 and 230 pounds, Joe Velleggia might not be the prototypical catcher, but he is Calvert Hall's unquestioned leader and go-to player.

May 03, 2006|By LEM SATTERFIELD | LEM SATTERFIELD,SUN REPORTER

It wasn't long after Calvert Hall put the finishing touches on a 31-1 season that Cardinals baseball coach Lou Eckerl began hearing questions about his best returning player.

Specifically, he was asked if senior Joe Velleggia, a 6-foot-7, 230-pound catcher, would be a better fit at first base.

"This whole offseason, people who believed Joe was too big to be a catcher would ask me about whether I was going to switch Joe from catcher to first base. Personally, I don't think it matters," Eckerl said. "I would just tell them that we need Joe as a catcher, and he's a good one.

"For as big as Joe is, he makes a great small target and has soft hands. Down the line, if and when Joe gets a shot in college or the pros, it won't matter. Cal Ripken was a pitcher-third baseman in high school and was considered too big to play shortstop - and look what he did for Earl Weaver and the Orioles."

Velleggia's father, Frank, was also a catcher and was in the Orioles' organization for three years after starring at Loyola High School and the University of Alabama. It's evident where Joe gets his catching ability, although not his size. His father is 5-11, but his mother, Ann, is 5-10.

Velleggia said his size comes from two of his maternal uncles, a pair of 6-5 former football, basketball and baseball players. "I get my height from my mom's side of the family," said Velleggia, who has received a scholarship to play baseball at Old Dominion.

He played a season of football at Loyola before transferring to Calvert Hall for his sophomore year. "I wanted to concentrate on baseball, which I have played since I was 6 years old," he said.

The results of that focus were impressive last year when Velleggia helped lead the Cardinals to the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title. He hit .485 with 11 home runs, 18 doubles, 52 RBIs and 28 runs.

"Last year was a dream season, with so many opportunities in RBI situations where I was able to really make the most of them," Velleggia said.

He put in even more work last summer, excelling during a showcase in Las Vegas with the Oriolelanders. In 24 games this season, Vellegia has reached base nearly 40 times - being hit by a pitch six times and walked 31, eight of which have been intentional.

"Other teams know his ability, so they do not want to pitch to him," Eckerl said.

An example occurred in last Wednesday's 10-inning victory over Archbishop Spalding, a win that avenged an 8-2 loss in March that ended the Cardinals' winning streak at 38 games. Velleggia went 1-for-2 with three walks.

Velleggia is hitting .365 and ranks first on the team in RBIs (27), doubles (10) and runs (28).

"Even though my numbers are what people might consider good, I feel that I should be doing much better," he said. "The last thing I want to do is let down my teammates and coaches. I feel like I handle things fairly well because I try to maintain an even keel. But it's a learning experience, being pitched to in certain locations. You either make the big adjustments or face failure."

Although the Cardinals won 17 of their first 21 games, they have had their struggles, losing by a run to Loyola and, at one point, dropping three in a row.

"If we don't win the title this year, it will be disappointing because I still feel we have the best team in the league and we definitely are the hardest-working," Velleggia said. "I want to be remembered as a player who contributed his all to his team and played some small role in the success of the program, and a player who was level-headed during the good times and the bad.

"If, as a player, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the season and honestly say that I made adjustments and won the mental battle that all young players face, then I think I can look back and say that the season was a success."

That kind of approach is what Eckerl likes most about Velleggia.

"Joe has his head on straight and acts as a good role model to our players," Eckerl said. "He's not going to yell or scream as much as lead by example. The guys listen to him. We have a really young pitching staff this year, and Joe does the job handling their inexperience.

"Joe is our go-to guy - the player I want at the bat when the game is on the line. He's our catcher now and until the end of his career."

lem.satterfield@baltsun.com

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