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Nassau Diamond Awards for Mitch Calandra, Anthony Papa

This Newsday composite shows Floral Park catcher Mitch

This Newsday composite shows Floral Park catcher Mitch Calandra, left, and Division pitcher Anthony Papa. Calandra and Papa were 2015 co-Diamond Award winners as the top position players in Nassau. Credit: James Escher

Floral Park's Mitch Calandra and Division's Anthony Papa have faced each other twice, and it's no surprise that each got the better of the other once.

They never squared off in their school jerseys, but they stood 601/2 feet apart in a summer league game.

Papa, an All-Long Island pitcher, was trying to get out Calandra, a Ryan T. Caulfield winner as the top catcher in Nassau. Calandra remembers thinking "his knuckle drop is one of the filthiest pitches I've ever seen in my life. It's unbelievable how he throws it for strikes."

Calandra remembers hitting a double off Papa. The other at-bat didn't end quite as well for him. "I think he K'd me on the other one," Calandra said. "Probably with that knuckle drop."

The respect between the two is mutual.

"From what I hear, he's a great competitor, drives the ball well, has a lot of pop," Papa said. "He's supposed to be a fantastic hitter. I never got the privilege to play him this season."

At Wednesday night's dinner at the Uniondale Marriott, the two were named co-winners of the Diamond Award given to Nassau's top position players. It's the first time there's been a tie for the honor.

Calandra, a five-year starting catcher on his way to Division II Eckerd College in Florida, hit .477 with a .539 on-base percentage with 30 runs, four home runs and 18 RBIs as Floral Park's leadoff hitter this season. His most impressive stat, however, may be only one strikeout in 76 plate appearances.

When Calandra wasn't behind the plate, he was the Knights' No. 3 starting pitcher, going 4-1 with 51 strikeouts in 30 innings. The Floral Park coaches usually called the pitches, except when Calandra was on the mound.

Calandra, who was involved in charting and discussing the pitches in the first two games of each series, knew the hitters and their tendencies by Game 3. So his coaches placed complete confidence in him.

"It's funny," coach Paul Pugliese said, "my assistant coach and I kind of look at each other a little too much the third game of the week and are like 'What are we doing here?' He doesn't need us."

Pugliese says Calandra's greatest skill is his arm behind the plate. He's not afraid to throw behind runners, but they are afraid to attempt to advance on him.

"This year, teams did not steal bases on him," Pugliese said. "By the time he was a senior, it neutralized an opponent's run game. It took that facet completely off the table."

As for Papa, when Division coach Tom Tuttle met him at one of his baseball camps, Tuttle described him as an 8-year-old "gum-chewing, fat little kid." Tuttle also won't forget Papa's first varsity at-bat.

Tuttle had Papa play with the varsity for a non-league game late in Papa's freshman season. He pinch hit in a game at Farmingdale State and hit a 400-foot fly ball to the warning track.

"I knew I had something special then," Tuttle said.

Papa hit .421 with a .500 on- base percentage with 40 hits, 37 runs and 36 RBIs his senior season en route to a Long Island championship-game victory. The three-year varsity starter is best known for his pitching arm, but he also played the outfield and had 100 hits, 94 runs and 94 RBIs for his career. Papa will play at Division II LIU Post, where he is expected to be used as a pitcher.

"He's got some scary numbers, and you don't get that by accident," Tuttle said. "You have to be good. He could play at Post as a position player, to be honest with you."

With Calandra and Papa both playing Division II, there's a chance they'll meet again. Each has a Diamond Award, but neither is finished.

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