Paoletta: This star shines in two sports
Published 11:33 am, Saturday, August 18, 2012
By Pat Pickens
WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. -- It's hard to believe that a player who hits over .500 for an entire summer might not view baseball as his primary sport.
But Biagio Paoletta is no ordinary athlete.
Fairfield American's catcher batted .556 with a national-best 18 RBIs at the New England regional tournament in Bristol. He also hit two grand slams as Fairfield won the tournament and qualified for the Little League World Series.
But Paoletta is also an elite soccer player, playing center back for Norwalk-based Everton America's U13 team.
"I wouldn't say baseball is my second sport," Paoletta said on Thursday at American's post-game, family party at Bullfrog Brewery. "I can't decide. I love baseball in baseball season and I love soccer during soccer season."
Paoletta's fall soccer season is set to begin Monday, but he'll still be in Williamsport playing for Fairfield. American's run to the World Series has wreaked havoc on his busy soccer schedule this summer. Biagio had to miss an elite tournament in July in Lancaster, Pa., because Fairfield was battling in the district tournament.
Even though Paoletta's been forced to choose baseball this summer, traveling for soccer still is necessary. He was invited in March to Cary, N.C., by the U.S. Soccer Developmental program to train with the U.S. National team.
In June, he trained at the University of Bridgeport with 23 others from New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut. He was one of the 12 best and was chosen to advance his training with 12 others from the rest of New England.
The program's aim is to identify the finest soccer players in the U.S., which Paoletta has become.
"He's a very good athlete," his father, T.J. Paoletta said. "He's extremely competitive and has always been a gamer."
But baseball runs in Paoletta's family. T.J. is a former Division I baseball player, having played first base at Fairfield University. His mother, Linda, was a Division I catcher at Fordham University, Linda reached the East Regional softball tournament in Bristol 30 years ago as a member of Black Rock Little League. She and her team fell a game short of World Series.
When Paoletta and Fairfield won New Englands with a 14-0 win over Bedford, N.H. qualified for the baseball World Series, she felt great.
"I was so happy for him," Linda Paoletta said. "He's having the time of his life."
Paoletta has caught every inning of every game for Fairfield's district team since he was 10. He's also Fairfield's best hitter, and is expected to contribute offensively.
"We have high expectations for him," T.J. Paoletta said. "And he's exceeded all expectations we've had for him."
Thus far he hasn't disappointed, driving in 19 runs in seven games since the regional tournament started, including a first-inning home run on Thursday against Petaluma, Calif.
"I was just going out and trying to get a hit," Biagio Paoletta said. "I stepped in the box, then stepped out, and looked around. Then I realized I was at a game and the nerves went away."
After taking two strikes, Paoletta settled in and smoked an 0-2 curveball over the left centerfield wall for Fairfield's first run of the World Series.
"It felt great," Paoletta said. "I looked up and saw the fans cheering. It's such a big deal."
In his second at-bat, he lined a single between third and shortstop, then -- with some trademark heads-up base-running -- he rounded first and reached second.
"He's not afraid to take a chance," T.J. Paoletta said. "He made that play on his own."
Among the Biagio Paoletta's other responsibilities is managing Fairfield's pitching staff, which consists of three lefties, a rarity in Little League baseball.
"They're all completely different," he said. "Having three lefties on our team helps us a lot because other teams aren't used to facing lefties."
Also among the added responsibilities for Paoletta is the addition of the dropped third strike rules. Before 2012, Little League rules stated the ball was ruled dead on a dropped third strike.
But this year the rule changed, forcing catchers to tag or throw out runners at first on strikeouts not caught by the catcher. Compounding the issue, Fairfield American's spring, in-town league did not add this rule, but at the district level, Paoletta had to acclimate to it, and has.
"June 15 that started for him," T.J. Paoletta said. "He's made every play. Defensively he's very solid."
Biagio Paoletta also realizes the toll catching takes on his body.
"It's demanding on my knees," he said. "I don't feel it while I'm catching, the adrenaline takes over. But after games, I can feel it."
Biagio Paoletta is the second-oldest of five extremely athletic and competitive Paoletta kids. He says his goal is to play either baseball or soccer at the University of North Carolina.
T.J. Paoletta wants his son to play whatever sport makes him happy, but doesn't want Biagio to have to choose between soccer and baseball before he's ready.
"I think it'd be a shame if he gave up baseball," T.J. Paoletta said. "There's so much pressure for kids to choose one sport and it's hard and unfair. I think he should resist that as long as he can."