By Five Boro Sports
Hope springs eternal and this spring there’s certainly a greater sense of optimism for the Christ the King baseball team.
And why not? It can’t get much worse than last year, when the Royals were 1-16 in the CHSAA Class A Brooklyn/Queens Division.
But a quick glance at last year’s record doesn’t tell the entire story. Eight of those losses were by one run. A good bounce here, a seeing-eye single there and the Royals would have been in the playoff hunt.
The storyline became all too painfully familiar for Steve Varela, this year’s senior co-captain. The Royals would be in every league game, but one dropped ball in the outfield, one two-out walk would be compounded and before the senior pitcher/shortstop knew it, CK found itself in a three or four-run hole.
“It was hard,” said Varela, who is being recruited by Adelphi and C.W. Post. “Losing [eight] games by one run, I couldn’t deal with that.”
But already this season, the Royals have won four non-league games before suffering their first defeat to St. Peter’s Friday at Juniper Park.
Billy Oettinger replaced Allen Watson midway through last season as head coach, but Watson, a former Major League pitcher, will still be around to work with the Royals’ staff.
And while Greg Downing, the No. 1 starter last year, is now at the Savannah College of Art and Design, an NAIA school in Georgia, Varela will take over as the ace when not playing short. Tommy Vega, a senior first baseman, senior pitcher/designated hitter Sal Ferrante and junior catcher Andrew Murphy are also back for the rejuvenated Royals.
“This year, overall, we have more depth on our bench,” Varela said. “The talent is where it should be. I’m looking forward to this year. I think we’re going to do a lot.”
Third baseman Jeff Durante had to sit out league games last year after transferring from St. Francis Prep and pitcher Frank Milito was out for personal reasons. Both players are expected to make an instant impact on a CK team that could surprise once the league season starts.
“The attitude is completely different,” Oettinger said. “I think we’re going to upset a lot of people. It’s going to be an interesting year.”
The first league test for Christ the King will be a stiff one. The Royals open up against Xaverian, the defending CHSAA Class A intersectional champions, in Brooklyn on Tuesday.
How Christ the King plays against the class of the league could go a long way toward determining if the preseason optimism is unfounded.
“If we play them hard and come out with a good loss or a great win, it will be a positive,” Oettinger said. “It could determine how the season goes.”