Few positions in baseball are more important than that of the catcher. A good catcher is fundamental to the tempo of the game. A great catcher will elevate a great pitcher, steady a shaky one, guard home plate like a brick wall, throw quickly and accurately to second base–and, of course, never, ever drop the ball. It is often said that the catcher controls the game, but of course, that was never said by a pitcher. It is a position that attracts athletes with a heady mix of smarts and fearlessness. It is also a position that Pingry’s Varsity Baseball Head Coach Anthony Feltre found open after last year’s senior catchers graduated.
There was plenty of interest in the role, and, this being Pingry, where taking risks is often encouraged, Coach Feltre found himself contemplating athletes who, at least on the surface, did not quite fit the mold. When it came to decide who would be the baseball catcher, Coach Feltre found himself considering a soccer player, a football lineman, and a hockey goalie.
For Joaquin Stevenson ’25, an all-around stellar athlete who plays soccer, ice hockey, and baseball, he has a philosophical approach to the game and could talk in detail about the different scenarios a catcher might encounter. He played the catcher position last season for the Junior Varsity team and, as the only sophomore under consideration for the role, Joaquin displayed an enthusiasm and an infectious love of the game. “He’s an incredible athlete,” says Coach Feltre. “And he has a year of experience doing it.”
Joaquin is always turning the game over in his mind. Just like in ice hockey, where the players tend to be on the larger side, Joaquin has had to figure out how to use his 5”7 frame to his advantage. He counts his experience in his other sports as an asset on the field. “Reading a ball in the outfield is very similar to reading a play where defenders are coming at you–you know you have to make a decision to either step or block the passing lane. It’s reading things on the fly, making those quick reads.” Ultimately, so much of his quick reflexes and ability to make the right play is about his highly developed game IQ.
Having clearly studied the game of baseball, Joaquin appreciates the contrast between the speed of both ice hockey and soccer versus the extended focus required for inning after inning of baseball’s slower pace. He had been working hard to earn the varsity catcher role, but outwardly projected an air of enthusiastic sublime. As Coach Feltre observes, “Nothing phases him. He is just so chill.”
For football player Dermot McGuire ’23, who played baseball his freshman and sophomore years before taking a break to play rugby, he was interested in the challenge. When AJ Passaro, the offensive line coach for the football team–who just so happens to be the pitching coach for the baseball team–encouraged him to go for the catcher position, Dermot was game. He certainly looks the part. At 6”3, the offensive and defensive lineman looked set to tackle any player who dared cross home plate. Dermot, who is committed to RPI for football, believes there are a few vital similarities between being a catcher and and being a lineman. “For a lineman, getting low is key, because in a catcher’s stance, you’re really low. And that will probably also translate back to football when I play in college.”
Jumping into a key position is not easy, and Coach Feltre empathizes with the pressure they face. “It’s pressure because pitchers are throwing in the mid- to high 80s,” he says, adding that, as the catcher, “you’re out there by yourself. You’re an island, standing behind home plate, and if you don’t catch the ball, everybody’s watching you. It’s not like a football game where, if you miss a block, no one really sees it too much.” If there is any trepidation in catching a baseball barreling toward him in the high 80s, Dermot doesn’t show it. “I’ve got a glove,” he says simply.
There is a particular pressure they all face when Pingry’s ace, Jake Francis ’23, is on the mound. Jake’s catch-me-if-you-can heat comes in at 90 m.p.h. At that velocity, there is no room for mistakes. For Javi Trujillo ’24, Pingry’s renowned ice hockey goalie, he is used to that speed, blocking and catching pucks that come at him in the 80s and 90s. Coming off the ice hockey team’s fantastic season, Jake approached Javi about considering the open catcher position. After all, a hockey goalie has to maintain a crouch similar to a catcher. Javi was interested immediately, and Coach Feltre was intrigued. “I think he’s a wild card, he really is,” he says. “I’m really excited to see how he can do it. He’s an outstanding goalie, which is great.”
Yet Javi was also realistic in his expectations. He wanted to play, and he was confident he could, but he also had not played baseball since he was eight years old, having focused on and excelled at ice hockey for as long as he could remember. “I’m not expecting to make varsity the first year, because I'm still very new to the game,” he says. But his approach–whether behind a hockey mask or a catcher's mask–is the same. “If I’m going to do something, I want to put 100% effort into it.”
For Varsity Baseball Captains Nick Lorenzo ’23 and Jake Francis, they knew each of the players had their strong suits. As Nick observed, Javi had “mental toughness”, Joaquin is a “great athlete”, and Derm is a “big, strong kid.” Ultimately, all the technical skills and fortitude come down to one thing: trust. “You have to establish a good relationship with your catcher,” says Nick.
For Jake, being out on the mound and trusting his catcher is paramount to getting on with the game. He noted that last year’s senior “made it very easy for me to throw. He really made me comfortable when I was on the mound. And that just shows the kind of catcher that he was. So I’m looking to find that kind of relationship with somebody else.”
Ultimately, after the team’s spring training trip to Florida, and as the season progressed, Joaquin earned his spot as the varsity catcher, Derm rotates in as the backup catcher and hits DH, and Javi is, as he expected, getting acclimated to the position on the JV team.
So for Pingry’s 2023 baseball season, a soccer star, a football lineman, and an impenetrable hockey goalie walked out onto the baseball diamond and out into the great unknown. And what did they do? Played ball.
Top Photo: Joaquin Stevenson
Second Photo: Joaquin Stevenson
Third Photo: Dermot McGuire
Fourth Photo: Javi Trujillo
Contact: Sara Courtney, Communications Writer