Although he hasn’t had the chance to put in a lot of time on the mound for the Mustangs so far this season, Monte Vista senior pitcher Mark Appel expects things to get back to normal soon.
A member of the basketball team that reached the NorCal Division 1 finals before falling to McClymonds, Appel got an even later start than normal, missing the first couple of games for the baseball team.
“My season always starts a little late because of basketball and it takes some time for my arm to get into its best condition,” the 6-foot-4 Appel said. “I always start the first few weeks relieving before I start any games. My arm feels good and I touched 93 (mph) and sat at 90-91 in my second appearance. I have enjoyed watching (teammates) Christian Jones, Steven Swift and Joey Wagman pitch effectively and Grant Saudners call great games from behind the plate.”
Appel is 2-0 on the season with 15 strikeouts in 13 innings pitched. As a team, the Mustangs are 11-3 overall and ranked No. 1 in the San Francisco Bay Area by the Chronicle. It’s scary to think how good the Mustangs will be when Appel begins pitching full time.
The late starts are nothing new for Appel, who picked up a save in his first varsity outing last year just a day or so after finishing basketball season.
“I closed a game two days after my basketball team lost the sectional semifinals last year. Christian Jones was throwing a shutout through 5 innings against Serra and I saved the game with two scoreless innings,” Appel said. “I was not expecting to be handed the ball so soon after basketball season, and I was glad I saved the game for Christian.”
Later that season, Appel pulled off the biggest win of his high school career, knocking off Livermore which was ranked No. 2 in the state at the time. The victory caused an impromptu celebration by Monte Vista coach Bill Piona.
“Coach Piona was so happy that he let the team bus stop at In-N-Out Burger after the game. No one could remember him doing that before,” Appel said. “It was also the first time a pro scout contacted me after a game. He told my coach I had thrown 91 and was still touching 90 late in the game.”
Appel, who has already signed a letter of intent to play at Stanford next year, went 5-2 last year with 36 strikeouts in 41 innings pitched and a 2.56 ERA. His performance led to several summer all-star tournaments, including the Area Code Games and the Mariners Cup.
“The Area Code games were incredible. A whole week in Southern California was great, and I had the opportunity to meet a lot of great players and the Brewers’ coaches,” Appel said. “Seeing the best players in the country for an entire week gives you a new perspective on where your talent needs to be. MLB also has a great educational session on professional baseball. I went to the beach and other places with Steven Piscotty and Kenny Diekroeger, who will play with me next year at Stanford.”
“The Mariners Cup was fun because we played at Safeco Field, which is a fantastic stadium, and the Mariners run a great event,” Appel added. “I really enjoyed playing for Keith Snider, the local Giants scout who organized our team, and the Northern vs. Southern California rivalry was fun when we beat the USA Mariners team. When we weren’t pitching, Scott Griggs, Christian Jones, Justin Jones and I got to chart the other pitchers. We’re all going to pitch against each other in the Pac-10.”
Appel also spent his summer playing for NorCal and two years ago with the Danville Diablos and the coaching duo of the Nicholson brothers, Derek and Darren.
“They were incredible instructors,” he said. “They helped me develop a vision for what I could achieve. NorCal is a long-established program with a national reputation and has sent hundreds of players to college ball and the pros. NorCal gave me the opportunity to learn from great teachers like Tony Crivello and Gary Hanks, who really know and respect the game. It also allowed me to play with many of the best players in the area.”
He also spent some time over the summer pitching at his future home – Stanford University.
“I pitched five shutout innings at Sunken Diamond during Stanford’s summer camp, with eight strikeouts, and all my pitches were working,” Appel said. “Since I was in Little League, Stanford and Rice, who played each other in Omaha for the 2003 NCAA title, were the schools I wanted to play for and it was great to pitch so well in front of the Stanford coaches.”
The Mustangs play a meat grinder of a schedule, facing many of the top teams in the Bay Area, including hometown rival San Ramon Valley. The two teams play today in an East Bay Athletic League matchup.
“Our toughest competition is always in our own East Bay Athletic League, which is even tougher since De La Salle joined this year,” Appel said. “There isn’t a single weak team and there is a lot of great pitching in the league. Our traditional rival is San Ramon Valley and they are always tough with Scott Griggs and Alex Palsha on the mound. DLS with Nick Berhel and Amador Valley with Steven Piscotty on the mound will also be hard fought games.”
Tough competition notwithstanding, Appel feels the Mustangs have what it takes to win a title.
“I believe we have the talent to win the North Coast Section Championship. Pitching and catching are our strengths but I think senior leadership is just as important. The seniors promote great team chemistry and the team goes into every game confident that we are prepared to win the game.”
Appel has been a baseball fan ever since he was sporting his Dodger blue in T-ball league and running pell-mell around the basepaths after hitting the ball. However he didn’t realize that maybe he had a future in baseball until his sophomore year.
“Darren Nicholson of the Danville Diablos told me in the fall of 2007 to attend a showcase because he thought I had DI skills in the outfield and as a pitcher,” Appel said. “I had always dreamed of playing college and professional baseball, and this was the first time anyone ever told me the dream could come true. It became even more real when I was named to the top prospect list at the showcase.”
Appel has picked up tips from many coaches along the way, using each new experience to help shape the next.
"Besides my parents, my Little League coach Cary Gray, my pitching instructor Jason Sekany, and my JV basketball coach Nick Jones have all been very influential in my development,” Appel said. “Coach Gray taught me always to work hard and never get too high or low in my emotions. Jason Sekany taught me a good fundamental delivery, and gave tons of encouragement through the years. Nick Jones, who is now the head coach at Castro Valley, is the fiercest competitor I have ever known, and he taught me that competing is much more about desire than just playing well.”
Monte Vista assistant coach Carl Alioto also feels Appel has what it takes to succeed at the next level.
“At 6-4, Mark can throw his fastball at 92. What makes him special is he throws effortlessly and features a plus slider and changeup as well,” Alioto said. “He fields his position well for someone his height. Playing basketball has definitely helped him. He has good feet and balance to go along with a live arm.”
A North Coast Section scholar-athlete, Appel is a bright student who takes advanced placement courses in calculus and statistics. He also spends time tutoring others in math while also doing volunteer work at his church and with his youth group.
“Mark is an excellent student-athlete who enjoys the success of the team and his fellow teammates,” Alioto said. “He is an extremely disciplined young man who is able to juggle his studies and the rigors of being an athlete.”
Setting his priorities and tackling the task at hand are a part of Appel’s daily routine.
“Getting all my school work done on time frees me to focus on my athletics without having too much stress,” he said. “With basketball and baseball, I have had a built-in year-round conditioning program because there is never any downtime. I also think making time for my church’s youth group and my discipleship group helps me keep my on field success in perspective. Later this spring or by early summer I will begin a focused power pitching program, working out two or three days a week with Aaron Thigpen at Gamespeed to improve my leg, core and shoulder strength, and hopefully my explosiveness.”
Although headed to Stanford, Appel could be selected in June during the Major League draft. A native of Houston, Appel looks up to a former Astros star for inspiration.
“The athlete I try most to emulate is Nolan Ryan because he had a great fastball and curveball, and worked really hard to always be in shape and have a long career. He let his play on the field speak for him.”
For now, however, Appel is keeping focused on the task at hand, which includes a possible section championship.
“For personal goals, I am focusing on throwing all my pitches for strikes on any pitch count, and using them every time I throw. I also want to increase my best velocity from 93 up to 95 or higher by the end of May, and be sitting at 91-92 on my fastball,” he said. “My main goal is to do whatever it takes to win the East Bay Athletic League, and then win the North Coast Section.”
Appel is one of the standouts featured from the MaxPreps Top 100 Baseball Players list, which will soon be available.