Nick Dalesandro and his Joliet Catholic baseball teammates had not been born yet when Bugs Bunny was in his heyday, and they most likely never heard of Bert Campaneris.
Those two came to mind, however, as Dalesandro did it all for the Hilltoppers during last week’s run to the Phil Lawler Classic summer baseball tournament title at Benedictine University.
If you are old enough, you may recall the Bugs Bunny cartoon where he was the entire baseball team. He was quick enough to play every position on the field simultaneously.
Campaneris, meanwhile, played all nine positions an inning each for the Kansas City Athletics in a game in September 1965. He was more than acceptable everywhere he went, including on the mound and behind the plate.
That brings us to Dalesandro, a senior and the Lawler Classic MVP. Between the spring and summer seasons, we saw him cover the ground and then some in center field, where his throwing arm also was a weapon.
We saw him play third base, where he made difficult pickups of ground balls look routine, and second base, where his arm allowed him to throw out a runner attempting to score from third on a ball hit over the mound. Normal second basemen would not have attempted that throw.
As a catcher, he blocked everything and shut down the opponents’ running game. Again, there’s that arm.
He pitched effectively. He won the Lockport Regional title game over Sandburg and the state championship game over Nazareth after picking up the win in relief in a 1-0, nine-inning win over Prairie Ridge in the opener of the state tournament.
“Nick was really good tonight. He showed a lot of maturity,” JCA coach Jared Voss said after the 3-1 championship win over Nazareth. “Sometimes he tries to strike every guy out, and he wasn’t doing that tonight.”
Dalesandro, who lost the summer state final to Lyons in 2012 and beat Wheaton St. Francis in the Class 3A title game in 2013, threw 77 pitches in the seven innings. He had a one-hitter going until the Roadrunners got to him in the seventh, but he gutted it out and finished the deal. A radar gun had the fastball he threw to the final hitter at 92 mph.
“I was on a pitch count, and I was about there,” Dalesandro said. “It was maybe 75 or 80. But I wanted to finish.”
He also took charge on an infield popup on the first-base line and about 20 feet from home plate, which a pitcher normally does not do, had two hits and ran the bases hard. That’s the only way he knows, but it’s not always something coaches want their star pitchers doing.
Whatever Dalesandro does on a baseball diamond, you notice him.
“Nick is one kid who no matter what position you put him at, he is the best at that position,” Voss said. “I’ve had kids who were the best at their positions like [current minor leaguers] Joe Benson and John Ruettiger, but Nick is the best everywhere.
“They wanted us to fill out rosters for this tournament, and where it said position, I told the coaches we should just mark ATH [athlete] for him. That’s what he is.”
Dalesandro will play his college baseball at Purdue, if that’s the route he decides to take. The Boilermakers recruited him as a catcher.
Wherever he plays for the Hilltoppers in the spring, rest assured pro scouts will be watching. Don’t be surprised if he is a high draft pick. Will it be as a catcher, pitcher or outfielder? Stay turned.
In 2016, JCA will have another kid who could go high in the draft, junior right-hander Drake Fellows, who already is committed to Vanderbilt. Unlike his good friend Dalesandro, Fellows knows what his collegiate and professional position will be, and that’s on the mound.
However, JCA fans learned this summer Fellows also is dangerous with the bat. He hit fourth, right behind Dalesandro, and had the game-winning hits in both the semifinal and final. His game-winner in the 3-2 semifinal victory over Prospect was a seventh-inning walkoff.
Voss pointed out the summer championship could be a springboard to the 2015 spring season for the Hilltoppers. The big names – Dalesandro, Fellows and Iowa-bound shortstop Mitch Boe among them – stepped up when the chips were down. But JCA completed an unbeaten summer run, a first in the tournament’s 39-year history, thanks to everyone on the roster.
After all, it’s summer. It’s the time of year when you often do not have many of your top players because they are off playing with their travel teams, attending showcases, participating in other sports or perhaps nursing injuries.
“This is a testament to all the kids in our program, but we need to keep everything in perspective,” Voss said. “A state championship in the spring is the big goal.”
• Dick Goss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.