Orangewood Christian (Maitland, Fla.)
coach Alan Kunkel says he had to beg players to come out for the team when he took over as coach of the private school in Maitland, a suburb of Orlando, Fla.
Fortunately for Kunkel, there was one young man who couldn't wait to play.
After all, Dante Bichette Jr.
had already played on what many consider to be the grandest stage of amateur baseball – the Little League World Series. And it was in Williamsport, Pa., in 2005, that he was coached by one of the more famous men to ever grace the dugouts at the complex – his father, Dante Bichette Sr.
Bichette Sr. played in the major leagues for 14 years, finishing his career with a .299 batting average, including 274 home runs and 1,141 RBIs.
But perhaps Bichette Sr.'s most important statistic is his shoe size of 13. Why? Because it's those shoes that Bichette Jr. is trying to fill.
"It's the best situation you can ask for," Bichette Jr. said about being the son of a former big-leaguer. "My dad is someone who has achieved at the highest level of the game. He's your dad and teaches you. Everything I know he has passed down to me. He'll help me with my game as long as my career goes on."
Bichette Jr. already wears a size 13. That fact, along with the 6-foot-1, 215-pound shortstop's .639 average at the plate, makes it appear the talented senior is well on his way to living up to his famous surname.
The shortstop doesn't just hit for average, but also with power. His nine home runs, combined with Tomas Nido's
school-record 16 and Alex Carter's
15, have helped lift the Rams total to 77 for the season, just two shy of breaking the Florida high school team record. But despite his team's power, Kunkel is quick to point out there's a bigger reason Orangewood Christian (28-1) is in the regional finals and ranked No. 31 in the MaxPreps Xcellent 25 National Baseball Rankings
, which extends to 50 spots near the end of the season.
"Chemistry," the seventh-year coach said without hesitation. "These kids love playing with one another. It's the most tight-knit group of kids I've been around. They are committed to doing the little things and feed off one another."
Orangewood Christian is hitting .430 as a team and Kunkel says, unlike most high school teams, its No. 9 hitter is nearly as dangerous as the top of the order. As intimidating as the lineup is from top to bottom, it's the Rams' No. 3 hitter, who Kunkel calls "the best player I've ever coached," that has distinguished himself as one of the top hitters in the country.
"Dante has a very uncanny ability for a 17- or 18-year-old," said Kunkel, whose team broke last year's school record of 22 wins. "His ability to process information and read pitchers is unbelievable. It's not just raw talent. He not only is unbelievably blessed with the ability to play the game but has a mind that can process all the information where other talented kids may not be able to."
As a junior, Bichette Jr. batted .597 with nine homers and 37 RBIs to earn All-Central Florida Player of the Year honors and a spot on the 2010 Baseball America High School All-American team. This season, in addition to his lofty batting average, he also has 35 RBIs and a slugging percentage of 1.181, this despite drawing 17 walks and being hit by a pitch nine times.
"Hard work," Bichette Jr., who also serves as the team's closer, said when asked how he became such a good hitter. "My dad has taught me from a very young age that to be better than others at the next level, you have to work harder because everyone is going to be good at the next level."Continue reading