By Rich Bevensee
Drew Grasso has his entire baseball life in front of him and yet he already considers himself a student of hitting.
When he isn’t taking batting practice cuts, he’s reading about hitting, he studies his swing, he drills on it and asks questions about how to improve.
That kind of dedication to his craft was evident on Saturday, when Grasso jump-started his team’s offense and capped a brilliant weekend of hitting. His RBI triple in the bottom of the first inning sparked the Ocean Surge Elite 10U squad to a five-inning, 8-0 victory over the Philadelphia Area Baseball Magpies in the Easter Extravaganza championship game at Diamond Nation in Flemington.
“Grasso just hits,” said Brian Patterson, head of the Surge program which is based in Ocean Township, N.J. “He’s a monster in the 3-spot and it doesn’t matter – one-strike, two-strike approach – he just hits the ball.”
Grasso, who went 1-for-2 with a walk and a run scored in the final, was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. It was the second MVP honor of his career; he won the award last season in a Perfect Game tournament.
“Hitting is definitely very fun for me,” Grasso said. “You gotta be loose and not tense up or else you’ll try harder and you’ll miss.”
The Surge outscored four opponents 54-1 in sweeping past its Easter weekend competition en route to its fourth tournament title in five weeks of action.
“We’re the number one team in the state right now, and we could get better if everyone works on hitting and everything else,” Grasso said.
“Depth is the key for us,” Patterson said. “We have 10 kids and eight of them could play shortstop on any team in Monmouth County or anywhere else. They all pitch, they all hit, they all do everything. It’s a phenomenal group we’ve had since they were six years old.”
Not only is the Surge club loaded with talent, the team is chock-full of determination. On four different occasions, Surge batters (Carter Rosell, Mason Dondero, Chase McDougall and A.J. Petrone) turned average ground balls into infield base hits with unlimited hustle.
R.J. Zirbel pitched four no-hit innings for the Surge with two walks and two strikeouts before Grasso mopped up for the last two frames. He allowed a hit and a walk and struck out one. Together they allowed just three batted balls to reach the outfield.
“I was a little nervous but not really,” Zirbel said. “It didn’t take me long to feel like I was on today. I knew right away I was going to have a good day.”
Christopher Defino led off the bottom of the first inning with a double to left, and Grasso followed with a triple to right center which first appeared to be headed over the fence. Ryan Travis added a sacrifice fly for a 2-0 Surge lead.
In the second, Aiden Patterson laid down a textbook-quality bunt to score Rosell from third. McDougall made it 4-0 in the third inning when he alertly stole home after a dropped third strike.
The Surge tacked on four runs in the fifth to reach the mercy rule threshold. Petrone scored on a wild pitch, McDougall drove in a run with a ground out, Travis had an RBI single and Dondero walked with the bases loaded to end the game.
Grasso’s hitting may have been a highlight of the Surge’s championship weekend, it’s doubtful one would catch the young ballplayer resting on his newly-acquired laurels. He was excited to describe his work habits and his approach, which is very mature for his age.
“Well, with two strikes I try to just make contact, and if there’s a steal sign I know not to swing unless it’s two strikes,” Grasso said. “My dad (Paul, a Surge assistant coach) tells me a lot and we work on it every day, like get your hands back, or I do a drill in the game where I stand up and get into my backside. I also love to read about baseball. On my other travel team they made me read a book about baseball and I’ve never stopped.”
The Magpies defeated ESSA, 7-2, lost to the Surge 11-0 and beat Bakes Brewers, 6-4, in the semifinals. Brayden Moore accounted for the only base hit for the Magpies when he doubled to left in the fifth inning.