“My coach at Baldi [Middle School] always told me he thought I’d wind up being a catcher. Anyway, I bought a book about all the different positions and watched a lot of videos. I trained a lot. Did a lot of practice. Actually, it kind of came to me naturally and Mr. Bilkins [Max, the coach through 2009] gave me a shot.”
Monday, the Eagles traveled to Lighthouse Field, at Front and Erie, to meet Esperanza (charter) Academy in a Public League quarterfinal and Grande enjoyed a solid performance.
Batting third, he went 2-for-4 with a walk and one RBI and set a great defensive tone by gunning down would-be basestealers in the first and second innings as GW won, 11-6.
In high school ball, with runners on first and third, it’s not uncommon for coaches to tell their catchers to forget about the trail guy and just fire the ball to the pitcher with the hope of catching the lead guy too far off the bag.
In the Grande scheme of Washington’s first-year coach, Ken Geiser, freebies don’t flush. Dean erased Aderly Perez to end the first inning and nabbed Joseph Vazquez, a courtesy runner, at third to conclude the second.
“What’s that rule in baseball? With two outs, you shouldn’t try to steal third base?” Grande said. “Hey, if they want to take a chance, I’m ready. Doing that, it’s a good feeling. Not too many like it.”
Washington jumped to a 1-0 lead in the first as Corey Sharp doubled to right and Grande fired an RBI single to right-center. Jake Wright reached on an unsuccessful fielder’s choice and Mike Honick slapped a two-run single to left.
The Eagles added two runs in the second, five in the sixth (Ian Dougherty’s two-run double was the big blow) and one more in the sixth as Honick completed a 3-for-4, four-RBI outing.
Junior righthander Aaron Keen went four innings for the win. Wright (two innings) and Grande (one) also saw mound duty; they yielded one run apiece.
The game’s crazy moment occurred in the fourth when Esperanza’s Franklyn Mejia received credit for a three-run homer… after first being limited to a one-run, ground-rule double. There are shrubs beneath the trees in left and the umps, finally, determined Sharp had reached in there for the ball, thus keeping the play alive. Mejia had easily circled the bases.
The fact Washington has again earned a berth in the semifinals — Wednesday vs. Frankford, time to be determined, at Ashburn Field in South Philly’s FDR Park — is rather surprising. Grande and Wright are the only true veterans.
“Our record doesn’t show how well we played in a lot of our games, but we’re back where we wanted to be despite all the new faces,” Grande said. “The young guys have gotten so much better over the season.”
When asked to explain his leadership tactics, he responded, “I don’t get loud with anyone. I just try to relay the things I’ve learned in 4 years of being with this team. I’ve never had to yell. Never had to deal with problems. We have a bunch of good kids.”
Grande, who’s bound for the Community College of Philadelphia, lives on the 800 block of Lawler Street, a long drive beyond the northeast end of Washington’s campus.
If pressed, he could probably throw the ball home.
“Last year,” he said, “I had to play a little bit of third base because my arm was kind of faulty. It’s fine now. Pretty much.”
Very much, the Esperanza folks might say. n
Contact Ted Silary at email@example.com