Shortstop / pitcher Chris Pike during practice. (April 1, 2010)

Shortstop / pitcher Chris Pike during practice. (April 1, 2010) Credit: Photo by Joseph D. Sullivan

Chris Pike is asleep in the front of a black SUV. The night rain pelts the windshield and turns to sleet. It's the dead of winter, cold and dark at 8:45.

While other baseball players are in for the night, Pike patiently awaits the arrival of his personal trainer outside a Bohemia storefront. It is there that Pike will go through another intense agility and speed training workout.

"I'm just catching a few Z's before class," he laughed. "Sara [Gallitto] is about core work and agility training. I've developed better hand-eye coordination in her classes. It's not just jumping around and sweating. Baseball is about speed. Hand speed, mound velocity and foot speed. These nights separate the winners from the losers."

For Pike, it is the never-ending pursuit of success. For years, Pike was told he was too small and too slow to be a blue chip baseball prospect. He was told to forget Division I college baseball. The negative vibe further fueled his desire and motivated him to go to great lengths to be the best. The session ends and Pike, drenched in sweat, walks out. "Excellent workout; I'm tired," he said.

It'll be about 40 miles before Pike gets into a shower and gets to bed at his home in Water Mill. His alarm clock is set for 5 a.m. - enough time to eat and get to the gym for his daily workout with Southampton coach James Coady.

Players who are small in stature traditionally work extra hard to prove that size is not a detriment. The lucky ones see their bodies explode and the combination of natural skill and physical being produce a big-time prospect. That's what happened to Pike, who has had college coaches knocking down his door.

There was a time when those coaches wouldn't have been looking, never mind knocking. If you saw Pike three years ago, you would have thought he was a nice little player. If you walk by him today, you'd do a double-take. You'd never believe it was the same kid.

"People look at me now and they aren't sure at first," Pike laughed. "I grew a lot."

That's an understatement. Pike, a senior, has grown 7 inches and gained 42 pounds since the end of his sophomore year. He was an unknown 5-6, 138-pound skinny kid from the sandy beaches on the East End. Now he's a strapping 6-1, 180-pound draft prospect with an 89-mph fastball and a wicked curveball. And he's a switch hitter, with power from both sides, who can pick it at shortstop.

"There's nothing routine about Pike," Coady said. "He's a deeply committed player. His day starts and ends with baseball."

Pike's work ethic is remarkable. His relentless pursuit of a Division I scholarship or a professional contract has paid off. He is now considering offers from nine colleges, including six Division I schools. Those offers started to roll in after a junior year in which he went 10-1 with an 0.80 ERA and struck out 122 batters in 54 innings. He also batted .441 with 36 RBIs and 28 runs scored. "I'm in no hurry to make a decision," Pike said. "I want to find the right fit."

Pike jumped into the spotlight when he struck out 13 in last year's Long Island Class B championship, a 2-1 win over Wheatley. He continued the success throughout the summer, playing in the Marucci Invitational in Louisiana, AABC World Series in New Mexico and Perfect Game tournaments in Georgia, New Jersey and Florida.

"Chris is no stranger to traveling," said his father, Gary. "He went to the Dominican Republic when he was 7. And he's been traveling all over the country since."

Pike capped his summer tour by throwing a three-hitter with 14 strikeouts in a 3-0 win over the L.I. Whalers in the Boys of Summer 17-year-old title game at Citibank Park. The win punctuated a late spring and summer in which he played 107 games.

"He's traveled more playing in baseball tournaments than some people get to travel in a lifetime," Gary Pike said. "From Arizona to Washington state, Georgia, Dominican, Florida's Disney World, you name it, he's played it."

Pike is all about family. He is very close to his four younger siblings. He lived in an apartment in his father's industrial warehouse in Southampton until he was 7. He shared a 10-by-12 room on bunk beds with his sister, Kayla, and brothers Garrett and Chad.

"My dad is my inspiration," Pike said. "He works harder than anyone. I used to watch his games and he could always compete because he had heart. He came from very little and earned everything in his life because he outworked people."

Pike said it was common for his father to work a seven-day week. And his father's expectations drove him to succeed in the classroom and on the field.

"He's a great role model," Pike said. "My father taught me there are no shortcuts on the path to success. And look at what he's given us."

Gary Pike moved his family into a spacious 3,500-square foot Spanish-style home in Water Mill. Chris Pike's individual workouts of throwing a rubber ball off a concrete wall moved onto a two-acre estate with a tennis court, basketball court, in-ground swimming pool, and, of course, private baseball field.

Pike speaks lovingly of the parents who gave up most of their time to help him live his dream. A routine week of baseball consisted of five or six trips from Water Mill into western Suffolk or Nassau for practice and games. They would travel to destinations between 40 and 70 miles, and at times have to leave at 5 a.m. on the weekend to make it on time.

"Chris is worth every mile of travel," said his mom, Kelly. "He made friends all over Long Island. I love watching him play. He's so passionate."

Pike's pitching instructor, former major leaguer Neal Heaton of All Pro Sports Academy, said: "His determination and focus sets him apart. He's a special kid."

This is a perfect spring story. It is the tale of a classic late bloomer.

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