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August 17, 2013

Pindar makes himself at home

Star honors OHS graduate as best in baseball; Hughes is top coach

By Rob Centorani
The Daily Star

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Chris Pindar is a self-described “townie.”

By the spring of 2014, he will have worn the uniforms of the Oneonta High Yellowjackets, the Oneonta Outlaws and the Oneonta State Red Dragons — all in about a nine-month time frame.

When the term “baseball nut” was thrown out to describe him, he accepted in the same manner he secures a routine flyball.

His ultimate goal?

“The dream is to make it to the show — the major leagues,” center fielder Pindar said. “My goal is to make it as far as I possibly can make it. I want to keep playing baseball for as long as I can possibly play it.”

Those who play the game at the highest level leave clues to their success.

Problem is, oftentimes emulating the very best is difficult because they make the very hard appear to be very easy.

A prime example is Pindar. He says the key to hitting a speeding projectile is to relax to the point of not caring.

With fractions of a second to react to a pitched baseball, Pindar has proven with remarkable regularity over the past three high school baseball seasons that his approach works.

Following a senior season that included a single-season school-record seven homers — three coming in his final game — Pindar was named The Daily Star's Player of the Year.

And all of this power from a guy packing about 160 pounds on a 5-foot-8 frame and at home park that doesn't yield many long balls.

“He doesn't waste energy,” said Oneonta High's Joe Hughes, The Daily Star's Coach of the Year for the third straight year and sixth time overall. “He gets ready early and he's balanced. If you do that, you'll have a good chance to succeed. He has really good discipline at the plate. He reads pitches well and a lot of that comes from being balanced. He always seems to be balanced at the plate.”

It's that balance that make baseballs seem to spring off Pindar's bat as if they were superballs. As for that tension-free swing, one that would make a yoga instructor proud, Pindar has provided rock-solid evidence that relaxed muscles perform better than tight ones.

“I barely hold onto the bat,” said Pindar, whose 2013 season also included six doubles, one triple, 29 runs, 20 RBIs, 10 steals and 15 walks. “My whole body is relaxed. When the pitching gets faster, they're going to change speeds a lot. If you're tense and jacked up to hit the fastball and they throw you offspeed, you're going to be way ahead of it. You have to be as relaxed as possible, but you still have to be quick.

“When the pitcher starts his motion you have to be relaxed, relaxed, relaxed … get ready for the pitch, explode and then hit the heck out of the baseball,” he continued.

As Oneonta amassed a 58-11 record during the last three seasons, a mark that has included two Southern Tier Athletic Conference titles, one Section Four Class B championship and the 2012 Class B state title, Pindar has led the team in hitting each season.

He went from .486 as a sophomore to .529 as a junior and then .421 in his senior season, when many teams pitched around him as Pindar was the lone returning starter from the state championship team.

A three-time all-state selection, Pindar earned First Team honors in Class B this past season.

“For three solid years, he's been one of our best baseball players and one of the best in New York state,” Hughes said. “He's certainly been our offensive spark plug at the plate, setting school records and helping us win STAC championships, sectional championships and a state championship. He's been a major force in a really good run we've the last three years. He's been manning center field and running down balls. He's been a reliable name to put on the lineup card.”

Lest one think Pindar has simply been beating up on sub-standard pitching hereabouts, that thought process would be wrong on two fronts.

First, the talent in the STAC has produced state champions the past three years: Chenango Valley in 2011, OHS in 2012 and Seton Catholic Central this past spring.

Second, this summer with the Outlaws, Pindar hit .294, while seeing a steady diet of Division I pitching in the New York Collegiate Baseball League.

“He showed he can play at a high level of baseball,” said Hughes, who also managed the Outlaws. “He made the adjustment to a wood bat and that's a huge adjustment. He handled himself well. At times the adjustment was difficult, but he consistently hit for us.”

Then there's his defense. The guy can track a flyball remarkably well, runs extremely fast and possesses a powerful left arm.

“He has something you can't coach or teach and that's raw speed,” Hughes said. “That helps him get to balls a lot of guys don't get to. He's one of the fastest players I've ever coached.”

Added Pindar: “(Catching flyballs) is so instinctual. You have to read how far it's hit, where it's hit, at some ballparks, where the wall is. I don't know how to explain it. You have to read the pitch, read the batter's swing, whether he's early or late, it's a whole lot of different things. You have to have good instincts.”

Pindar, who'll major in business at O-State, said he developed some of those instincts in the Dominican Republic. Pindar's parents did mission work there and brought Chris with them as a youngster. He said they'd hand out food to the poor as the first couple times he went there it was only for humanitarian purposes.

“As I got older when I went down there, I still did mission work, but I'd go play baseball, too,” said Pindar, adding that Pedro Martinez's father-in-law ran one of the camps he attended. “You see kids the same age as you and they're so good. The only way to get out of the country down there is to get a baseball contract. They're hungry. That's when I realized I have to work as hard as these kids. I picked up so many things. I was a sponge down there. Those experiences helped me to become the baseball player I am today.”

Hughes said the sky is the limit for Pindar, who pounded three home runs in the Yellowjackets' 6-4 loss to Waverly in the Section Four Class B title game in June to break former New York Yankees utility player Clay Bellinger's OHS school record for home runs in a season.

“Who knows how far he can go?” Hughes said. “He has raw talents. He has speed, bat quickness, he has some natural tools and abilities. If he keeps working hard and keeps listening, who knows how good he can be?”

As for Hughes, this past spring didn't figure to yield the same results as the previous two seasons, when OHS went 44-4. The Yellowjackets graduated standouts such as 2012 Daily Star Player of the Year Ben Moxley, Mike Calkins, Sean Getman, David Wright, Ben Payton, Zach Pidgeon, Mark Giallanzo, Ryne Rivino and Conor Youngs from the state championship team.

At times this past season, the Yellowjackets started six sophomores but still returned to the sectional final for the third straight season.

Daily Star First Team All-Star selections Zach King, Jonathan Vega and Kragh Delello teamed with 10th-graders Josh Garufi, Noah Sheehan, Connor Tavarone, Collin Neer, Brock Eichler and Matt Bitzer to lead OHS to a 14-7 season.

“Our sophomores' success was aided by our senior leadership,” Hughes said of Pindar, King and Vega. “Everything our sophomores gave us was great. A couple of times I looked out and there were six sophomores in the starting lineup. They were laying down bunts, making plays, getting key hits and pitching.

“It was their first varsity year and I didn't know how they would handle it,” he continued. “I believed they could play and that's the reason they came up to varsity. They proved me right and showed they could play varsity baseball.”

Asked to pinpoint what makes Hughes a successful coach, Pindar said: “He's one of the smartest baseball guys I know. He can help you fix things, but in order to get that information you have to ask. He'll pull you over and say, 'Maybe think about doing this.' He won't tell you what to do; he'll make suggestions. During the summer, he said maybe get set for the pitch this way in center field to get a better jump. I do it every time now and I get better reads.”

Rob Centorani can be reached at rcentorani@thedailystar.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.