The Bishop McGann-Mercy Diocesan High School baseball coach, Ed Meier, calls it the craziest game he has ever seen and ever will see.
It was Game 2 of last year’s Suffolk County Class C championship series, and McGann-Mercy’s slugger, Rocco Pascale, played a prominent role in it. With the Monarchs trailing the host Port Jefferson Royals by one run with one out in the top of the seventh inning and the bases loaded, Pascale connected on a 2-1 pitch, launching the ball over the right-center-field fence for a grand slam and a 7-4 lead. The Monarchs went on to win the game, 11-9, in eight innings for the county title.
“That’s something you can’t write up,” said Meier.
Then again, that’s Rocco Pascale. Or at least that was the Rocco Pascale of last year.
Pascale had started last season as a largely unknown quantity and finished it as one of the most respected hitters in the county. He ended up with a .400-plus batting average. “I just played each game and what happened happened,” he said.
Meier said: “When it came down to it, he was Mr. Big Hit, he was Mr. Home Run. You couldn’t pitch to him. At the end of the year, teams were saying, ‘How do you pitch to this guy and get him out?’ Honestly, there is no answer. He was so locked in.”
Meier added, “When he’s locked in, he’s a devastating weapon.”
That makes it only more amusing — and somewhat stunning — to hear Pascale talk about how he had gone without a hit for two straight Little League seasons when he was younger. “I was really bad,” Pascale recalled. “I was striking out.”
What changed then?
“There was one game … when I did relatively well, and it made me realize that it could be a constant thing if I worked at it,” the senior said. “It’s all about confidence. It was the confidence that brought me to that next level.”
Pascale is expected to play his third position in as many varsity seasons this year. He was a starting catcher as a sophomore before being moved to first base last year. Although Pascale said he enjoyed playing first base, he is expected to be positioned at third base this season, replacing the graduated Chris Sachalk.
Pascale’s place in the batting order will also change. He batted sixth last year, but will be bumped up to either third or fourth this year, said Meier. Meier said he is inclined to bat Pascale in front of junior standout Pat Stepnoski in order to give him some protection, especially now that his name is more well known.
“Because of the tear he went on last year, I don’t think he’s going to see that many pitches,” Meier said. “He came into last year as a secret, that’s for sure, but after the performance at the end of last year, his name is out there.”
So, Pascale should get more at-bats this season and with that more opportunities to drive in runs. He said he would like to see the hot hitting he exhibited in the playoffs carry over into this season.
Pascale’s philosophy to hitting is simple: react, don’t think.
“My approach going up to bat is just to put the ball in play, always aiming to get on top and hit a single. I never look to hit a home run,” he said. “Hitting’s hitting. You just have to go up there, see the ball, hit the ball. It’s just a matter of putting the ball in play.”
Pascale’s swing is anything but traditional. “It’s very short,” Meier said. “It’s a little front-footish, but it generated so much power.”
Pascale said he likes to stay humble and not take anything for granted. Right now, he said, he is starting with a clean slate — a .000 batting average, no home runs and no runs batted in.
“Stats don’t mean anything to me, it’s the winning percentage,” he said. “I just want to contribute as much as a I can to the team. I won’t have a problem if Coach wants me to bunt or swing away. It’s whatever wins because that’s all that matters in the end to me.”