Spring Preview: Baseball

Part of the mystique of baseball is that it arrives gradually. Winter fades into spring. Lonely off-season workouts evolve into spring training for pitchers, catchers, and then everyone else. A full month of Florida and Arizona exhibitions must pass before teams are ready to play for keeps.

But for the teams in Queens’ top divisions of public school baseball, Opening Day on March 23 ushered in some seismic shifts.

For one, the 2009 season introduces a division realignment that should palpably increase the tempo of competition among the borough’s more eastern teams. Francis Lewis (No. 11), Benjamin Cardozo (No. 16), William C. Bryant (No. 17), Bayside (No. 19), and Forest Hills (No. 21) were the top-ranked Queens squads in last season’s playoffs, and four of those five — with Bryant the exception — are now squeezed into an altered Queens ‘A’ East division that reduces its size from eight to six.

A new third division, called the “Queens ‘A’ Mid-West” but likely featuring less cheese and wide open plains than America’s heartland, now houses John Adams (No. 22) and Newtown (No. 26), with Adams standing as the prohibitive favorite. The Spartans are led by senior pitcher and infielder Christian Cardenas, who batted .382 last season and maintained a 1.84 ERA.

In the Queens ‘A’ West, Bryant’s senior-heavy roster — punctuated by infielder Jose Rosado, who hit .571 last year — is the borough’s best bet to topple Grand Street Campus (No. 10), a division juggernaut despite its home on the other side of the Brooklyn-Queens border.

In the borough’s most competitive division, meanwhile, Francis Lewis will attempt to repeat as champion despite a seismic shift of its own: the loss of seven of its position players. Consistent Lewis has been playoff-bound nine of the last ten seasons, but Bayside is only two years removed from its own division title, with Cardozo witnessing the senior seasons of talented pitcher George Theodoropoulos and five-tool catcher/infielder/outfielder Jamal Vargas. Cardozo head coach Ronald Gorecki calls Vargas “a five-position player [who] could make it to a top level in competitive and professional baseball later on in his career. Jamal … will make it to [as] high [a] level in baseball as possible.”

In the Catholic Brooklyn-Queens division, St. Francis Prep and McClancy are hoping for some realignment of their own. They return from distant second-place finishes to Brooklyn’s Xaverian, which went 16-1 last season. McClancy did have the distinction of forcing Xaverian’s only loss of 2008, but that was back on April 9, the fourth day of the season. This year the CHSAA gets going on March 31, when the defending BQ champs host Christ the King.