Digital Harbor's Pitts more than your average star

Coppin-bound second baseman finished season batting .721, which is being confirmed as a state record

May 26, 2011|By Sandra McKee, The Baltimore Sun

When Nathan Pitts Jr. walked onto the baseball field at Digital Harbor, coach Dave Verdi knew he had a special player. Just how good, however, didn't become completely clear until near the end of this season. That's when Verdi decided to calculate Pitts' batting average and discovered his second baseman was in the process of setting the state single-season record.

Pitts wrapped up his season at .721. Verdi is collecting all of the game scorecards for verification with the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association. When that's done, Pitts will have officially outdistanced the mark of .711, set in 2001 by Southwestern's Travis Ezi.

"His batting average this year is something you might expect from a lob pitch softball league," Verdi said. "But Nathan went 3-for-3, 4-for-4, 3-for-4 all season. Even as the schedule got tougher, he still produced those big games. He's the best hitter I've ever coached. We've won four city championships since he arrived, and that's no accident. He always has been the key to our success. But with all his success, he is very humble and not very concerned about accolades. When I told him he had set the batting average record during our game with Harford Tech, he was more disappointed than happy because we had lost the game. With a lot of kids, that's not a genuine response. With him, it is. It's very sad for us that he's graduating."

Pitts, the son of a Baltimore Sun employee, carries a 3.0 GPA and will attend Coppin State next year on a baseball scholarship. He hopes to major in both criminal justice and psychology.

Did you set out to be a record-setter this season?

I honestly didn't. During the season I just wanted to use all the tools I had to make us a better team. I spent last summer and fall in leagues and worked on my skills during the winter. I did everything I could to get better.

It sounds like baseball dominates your life. How did you first get interested in the sport?

I've had a love for the game since I was about 5. My uncle had a team in the Northwood Baseball League. The first time I saw it, it was a beautiful sight for me. All the people. The intensity of the game. It was something I'd never seen before, and I wanted to be part of it. I knew that at 5 and told my dad I wanted to play.

He said, 'If you're going to play, you're not going to quit.' I told him I wouldn't, that I was ready, and he worked with me for years and years and years. So my love of the game came from my father.

What have been the most important things your dad taught you about baseball?

My dad taught me dedication, and he saw potential in me. He pushed it out of me until I released it — the potential he felt I had and I never knew I had. He developed my work habits every day — and I mean every day. No days off. No matter how tired I was. And I'm glad he did. He pushed me when I was tired and said it would pay off later, and when I'm truly tired during a game, I think about those hot in the sun days and cold days and the rainy days sitting in the house throwing a ball. He really developed me into who I am today."

Your coach tells me that during the season you are constantly pushing the coaches to throw more ground balls, to extend hitting practice, to do more field work. Does that come from how you grew up working on baseball every day?

That's the way I am with everything, really. I just look beyond the obstacles — which would be people. I come at the classroom the same way, with a need to never fail. My father, Coach Verdi and my (Little League) coach Stoney Briggs of the Baltimore Blacksox, all told me never to settle. In the classroom a grade of 80 is good, but 90 is better. On the field 4-for-4 is good, but a sacrifice fly might mean an RBI.

It sounds like dedication and relentlessness are your mental strengths. What is your strongest physical aspect?

My bat. Stoney Briggs taught me all the key little things that have helped me develop my bat into a weapon in the game.

What little things?

How to use all sides of the field — right, left and center. How to position your hands, get your step down, rotate your hips … knowing situations in the ballgame and, most importantly, to be a team player. Those things — and the fact that I've worked harder this year, I didn't take more than a week off from hitting. I'd go out on Sunday nights and hit. At home I'd do mirror drills, trying things out, swinging the bat and watching for what worked and what didn't. All those things are definitely the reasons I've been able to set the record this year.

Because you play for a city baseball team, there will be those who question how genuine your batting average is. Do you have any thoughts on the competitiveness of city baseball?

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