Brandon Kustek wanted just one more crack at him.
He, like his teammates, stood in the box at the end of MacArthur's makeshift indoor batting practice cage and tried and tried to put a decent swing on Adam Heidenfelder's stuff. But the jawing centerfielder, one of the top players on the team, was gunning for a challenge and wormed his way into a second turn at bat.
Like everyone else, he was a little late on his swings. Until . . .
"A single!" Kustek yelled out. "That was definitely a single!"
MacArthur coach Steve Costello, radar gun at the ready, smiled wryly. "If we'd been outside, you'd have broken the window on the car across the street."
Even if it was foul, Heidenfelder, the reigning Diamond Award winner, didn't seem thrilled at how much aluminum Kustek was getting on the ball. Batting practice was supposed to be over, but he stepped off the mound and motioned to his teammate. Like Kustek, he wanted one more crack.
Kustek settled in. Heidenfelder reared back and dealt. Leather hit leather, and Costello's radar gun blinked "91." It's March 7, and this was Heidenfelder's first live batting practice of the season.
"Pure stuff-wise, he's got a really high ceiling," Costello said. "He's legit and I think he can project with anyone. He's got this gigantic frame and it wouldn't be odd to say that he could throw 98, 99 one day."
His teammates call him Heidi, but while the nickname might conjure up thoughts of a little girl frolicking through the Swiss Alps, this Heidi is built less like the child and more like the mountain. At 6-5, 265 pounds, he is intimidation personified on the mound. He may be an anomaly in Long Island baseball, but this year, the pitcher who is committed to Hofstra is not alone.
Forty miles east of him, at All Pro Sports Academy in Bellport, Patrick Bryant was giving his Center Moriches teammates fits. Though his fastball averages in the high 80s, he has hit 93, and that seems a lot faster when the ball is coming down at you from 6-5, 220 pounds.
"You're throwing on a downward plane to the plate, so it's harder for batters to pick up the baseball out of your hand," Bryant said. "If I'm making the right pitches, they're getting fooled."
The senior, committed to Wake Forest, was 7-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 68 strikeouts last year. He throws four pitches for strikes, but the bread-and-butter are the two- and four-seam fastballs. More than anything, he can place the ball where he wants it.
That's not the only thing that attracted interest, said Dennis Donovan, the Red Devils' coach. When people talk about Bryant, he said, they talk about projectibility -- the word scouts use to refer to a player whose physical attributes will allow him to improve over time.
"You see how big and athletic he looks, and when you see him throw, you're going to be interested in what he has to offer," Donovan said.
Louisville courted him heavily during the recruiting process and made him an offer, which he accepted. But Bryant learned a harsh lesson on the un-projectability of baseball last October when, at a Florida tournament, he came down with a sore shoulder. Two days later, Louisville rescinded its offer and told Bryant it wanted to wait until spring to possibly sign him.
"I think that was their way of saying they didn't want me anymore, and I had no idea what to do," Bryant said. "I sat in my room all night. I couldn't even say anything to anybody."
But sore shoulder or not, his upside was big and the interest from schools hadn't abated much. Bryant again went through the recruiting process while also going to physical therapy. After four weeks, he was back to throwing the way he used to. About three months after that, he accepted Wake Forest's offer.
"I just fell in love with it," he said. "They play in the best baseball conference in America and I get to play Louisville. Hopefully, I have that chance."
Family matters most
Heidenfelder's college choice wasn't nearly as dramatic. He loved the coach at Hofstra and the baseball program and he wanted to stay close to his family. His father, John, a former pitcher at Queens College, has been coaching him since he was a (still pretty big) kid. This offseason, he didn't train with anyone else.
"He used to get on me because he expected the best from me all the time," Heidenfelder said. "But he's more laid-back now. He just stands by the plate and watches. He has confidence in me to just throw my game, and honestly, that feels a lot better to me."
Whatever training they did, it's been working. Last year, he was 6-1 with an 0.92 ERA, 88 strikeouts and 12 walks in 53 innings. "And my arm definitely feels a lot better at this point in the season than it ever has," Heidenfelder said. "It's all about the team goals, but this year I also want to improve record-wise, ERA-wise, less hits and less walks. I definitely want to cut down on the walks."
The ideal, he said, would be to make the major leagues, but he's not sweating it. "If life takes me that way, I'll gladly accept it,'' he said, "but if it doesn't, I always want to be involved in the game."
That even keel helps him on the mound, he said. Not that he doesn't get a rise out of the in-house competition. Batting practice is a great place to establish bragging rights, after all.
"It's a mutual-respect thing," Heidenfelder said. "They respect me enough to hit off me and I respect them enough to pitch to them. If someone gets a hit off me, they can dog me on it all season."
It's all about who's up to the (big) challenge.