Not many baseball teams in Queens can speak of a pitching-centric ethic as strongly as the Bayside Commodores. Their manager, Pat Torney, talks about inculcating “Dodger-like” skills in his players. Their pitching coach, Matt Retundie, has taken hurlers under his wing for seven seasons. The team’s two big starters have mowed down hitters all year long, in a manner reminiscent of Seaver and Koosman, just five miles and 40 years away.
Senior Jonathan D’Angelo, one half of the Commodore’s pitching tandem, is in his third and best season, compiling two wins, one save and a 0.50 ERA in 14.1 innings of league work.
The other half, junior Alexander Pangourelias, has had to conquer some adversity to join him; he’s taking the mound for the varsity Commodores for the very first time, just a few months removed from a serious back fracture that ended his sophomore season before it started.
“I was weightlifting in the off-season, and I didn’t have a belt on – and I was lifting a substantial amount of weight,” said Pangourelias, who was training for football season at the time. He fell victim to two spinal stress fractures, and spent his first varsity season on the bench.
Pangourelias, then a sophomore, believes the injury was in some ways a blessing in disguise.
“From sitting out I actually learned a lot, because I was able to actually get a feel for the pitching of varsity baseball and what it would take to reach the top,” he said. “I was able to pick up tendencies from other teams [and] be able to see the underclassmen and where I should pitch them.”
The value of Pangourelias’ sophomore season, in fact, may have extended beyond the powers of observation and well-worn pitching notebooks. It likely also helped him improve his form on the mound.
“I was able to fine-tune my mechanics from scratch,” he said,” because I had to find out what was good for my back and what wasn’t.”
Having made the best of a bad situation, Pangourelias, a natural outfielder, was finally healthy – ready to pitch and play second base as the 2008-09 season came around.
He added a hard-breaking curveball. His first league start, a 2-1 loss to Francis Lewis, was decided by an unearned run.
Six days later, he pitched a complete game and ceded not a single earned run. Bayside beat Aviation 9-3, and Pangourelias was well on his way to the 35 strikeouts (in 19.2 innings) that rank him in third place in the Queens ‘A’ East division. His league ERA is 0.73.
Last time his fastball was clocked, it hit 84 miles per hour.
He describes his style as “nitty-gritty,” saying “I don’t give up when I’m behind in the count – I’ll just keep coming after you. Even when there’s men on base, I don’t really care.”
And he credits Retundie, the pitching coach, with much of his success.
“He pushes us to [be better] than we really should be at our level,” Pangourelias said.
Thanks to the junior’s return, he and D’Angelo have led the Commodores, no doubt helped by Pangourelias’ .429 league batting average, to a 5-1 league record, with the loss to Lewis standing as the team’s only blemish.
They are in second place, one game behind 6-0 Benjamin Cardozo before a two-game series with the Judges on April 28 and April 30. Pangourelias pitches in Game One, D’Angelo in Game Two.
The junior knows that the series might decide the Commodores’ regular season. He likes their odds.
“Jonathan D’Angelo is a really good pitcher, and between me and him, I feel like we have one of the best pitching staffs in the Queens division,” he said. “Being that we only play teams twice in our schedule, it gives us a chance to win both games, because we have two good pitchers that can throw a substantial amount of innings.”
“I want to make a statement on [Cardozo’s] field,” he added.