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Who are those masked men?

Published March 26. 2010 08:28AM

It's one thing for a high school pitcher to throw a perfect pitch during a baseball game.

It's another thing for a fielder to catch a routine fly ball or even field a simple grounder.

All those things pale in comparison to the responsibilities the masked marvel behind the plate takes on.

"The catcher should be your 'field general' on the field," Pleasant Valley coach Karl Rentzheimer said. "He's the guy who's got to do the job and direct traffic when plays have to be made defensively."

When it comes down to the defensive part of the game plan, these individuals have to worry about taking charge.

It starts by receiving each and every pitch the pitcher throws at them.

The catcher is also responsible for catching every pop-up hit around the plate, as well as fielding every bunt or fluke hit in front of them.

These are only a portion of the tasks that several individuals from the TIMES NEWS area took on a year ago as underclassmen.

Scott Nietz (Marian), Andrew Hoch (Northern Lehigh), Greg Pecha (Panther Valley) and both Chris D'Arcy and Alex Jimenez (Pleasant Valley) are back to take on the brunt of the storm once again behind home plate this season.

A year ago, these individuals got a feel of the long list of responsibilities as first-year catchers.

First of all, the majority of them had to handle the transition from going from a player on the field to simply putting on all of the necessary equipment for a catcher.

It was a process that Panther Valley coach John Cooper saw happen with Pecha.

"He has done a real nice job (handling the responsibilities behind the plate), especially for the fact that last year was really his first year as the catcher at all," Cooper said. "Coming up through the Babe Ruth system and stuff, he was always a field player playing third base or first base. He caught a little bit. But for us to ask him to become a varsity catcher pretty much in one year, I think he has handled it all very well."

In addition, these returning seniors also have the responsibility of calling the game from behind the plate.

They have to signal the pitch to the pitchers throughout the seven innings of play.

It's a job Marian coach Jeff Nietz feels his son, Scott, has taken on well.

"Scott knows our pitchers inside and out," Nietz said. "He knows their strengths and weaknesses and he knows how to call a game based on that. He can relay information to the coaches as far as each pitcher's individual performance whether it be velocity, control or stamina.

"We place a lot of trust in him behind the plate and we take what he has to say very seriously."

Many teams also put a lot of trust in their catchers to limit the action on the base paths.

"The main thing that he (Pecha) provides for us as an asset is that he really does cut down on the opponent's running game," Cooper said. "Last year, I think he was close to 60 percent in throwing out base runners. It really gives us a lot of options on first and third situation, so we don't have to give up that base as easily."

But, if the opposition happens to get runners into scoring position, it's the catcher's responsibility to make the player earn that run at home.

Here's where Northern Lehigh coach Erv Prutzman feels Hoch's experience on the gridiron has helped him adapt to taking the hits on those possibilities.

"In my opinion, the reason why he was able to adapt to the position was because he's a lineman in football," Prutzman said. "So, you have to have a tough kid back there who has the ability to block balls, block home plate, bounce back from getting hit with foul tips. He was ahead in the game because he was a lineman in football and he made the adaptation to catching very well as well as very quickly."

With all the responsibilities that go with being a catcher, it's easy to see why having veteran leadership at the position is a luxury that any coach would covet.

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