Chris Baillargeon is clearly a man ahead of his time.
The quickly developing 16 year-old catcher also happens to be a senior in high school. He won’t reach his 18th birthday, in fact, until he is nearly halfway through his freshman year of college.
Oh, yes. Baillargeon has that taken care of that, too. After a short summer courtship, the Diamond Jacks Super 16U backstop gave his verbal commitment to Holy Cross, a college he fell in love with, initially, from a distance. You know, COVID and all.
Baillargeon had his first breakout moments his sophomore season at prep power Xaverian High School in Brooklyn. He batted .325 and started behind the plate in 29 games during a season his team went 16-14. The 5-11, 155 catcher slashed 26 hits and reached base at a .372 clip from the cleanup spot in the lineup. Those are pretty impressive sophomore numbers, especially given the level of competition Xaverian plays.
“We did well in the playoffs,” said Baillargeon. “We lost in the semifinals of the city tournament.”
Things were certainly looking up last spring for Baillargeon, as well as Xaverian. Then the pandemic hit.
“We could have won a state championship last spring,” says Baillargeon. “We were that good. Losing that season was really tough. I had a lot of close friends on that team who were seniors and we were really good.”
Xaverian has been blessed with some terrific talent over the years. For example, Rich Aurilia, a 15-year major leaguer, is an Xaverian and St. John’s University grad. Aurilia batted .275 during that long career, made the 2001 NL All-Star Team and retired after the 2009 season. The shortstop played most of his career with the San Francisco Giants.
Surely Baillargeon has those types of aspirations but, right now, it’s developmental time for him both behind the plate and at it. And, after two full seasons with the Diamond Jacks program, he and everyone around him can see the difference of where he’s been and where he is now, developmentally.
“I’m a much better player now than a year ago,” says Baillargeon. “I think my commitment to Holy Cross shows it.” He credits his development behind the plate to an elevation in confidence. “I’m louder and realize that I’m in a leadership position, like a quarterback in a lot of ways. I see the whole field and I’ve embraced the mental part in addition to the physical part.”
Baillargeon came to the Diamond Jacks program after his former travel team folded and through a recommendation by his catching coach, ex-major leaguer Tom Gregorio. Gregorio had a three-week cup of coffee with the Angels in September of 2003 and worked in the Angels organization after.
“My travel team broke apart and I had no place to play,” said Baillargeon, a Staten Island resident. “Coach Gregorio knows coach Travis (Anderson) real well and referred me to him.” Anderson, a former professional catcher himself, is Diamond Nation’s catching coordinator.
“Tom was actually the catching guy here (Jack Cust Baseball Academy) when I started in 2006,” says Anderson. “He then became the Angels’ roving catching instructor. Tom called me and said he may have a kid for us and he’d send him over for a workout. He said his team had folded.”
When Baillargeon showed up, Anderson found Gergorio’s instincts unsurprisingly accurate.
“Chris showed up and right away we saw a good athlete who moved well behind plate,” said Anderson. “A recommendation coming from Tom is a little different. You just trust it.”
Anderson and Baillargeon hit it off right away.
“Coach Travis gets on you if you aren’t doing well, but I love him because I know he is pushing me to be my best,” says Baillargeon.
Baillargeon has responded well to his instructors and coaches at Diamond Nation and it shows on the field.
“Chris has come a long way in his development,” says Anderson. “He’s worked his tail off. One thing we had to do early on was get him more flexible. He took that to heart. That’s him. He doesn’t take things personally. He knows you are looking out for his best interests. You give him a plan and he carries it out.”
Baillargeon actually came to Diamond Nation with a vision in regard to his future and he quickly gained a head of steam.
“Coach Steve (DiTrolio) put me in front of a bunch of schools the first day I got there,” said Baillargeon, “and he did so much for me from the start. I was new to the program but he believed in me and gave me a shot. I was being seen by colleges the very first tournament I played with the Diamond Jacks.”
Baillargeon would actually make DiTrolio’s efforts on his behalf fairly streamlined.
“It was going to be a tough road for the 2020 players,” says DiTrolio, referring to the NCAA’s prohibition this summer that its coaches could not recruit in person. “But Chris was able to separate himself due to his ability as a catcher. And it wasn’t hard for me to reach out to coaches on his behalf because he’s such a high character kid. I knew they’d be very interested in Chris as a potential recruit. I coached him for two straight years, which is unusual. He was a pleasure to coach.”
Baillargeon had the same trepidation as so many high school juniors around the nation who had just lost their high school season and knew the NCAA had hamstrung its Division 1 coaches.
“I knew the recruiting process had to start,” said Baillargeon. “I had no contact at the beginning of the summer. It was hard for coaches to see us play. Coach Steve got me in touch with (Holy Cross head) coach (Ed) Kahovec. I sent videos of me catching and hitting every week. We spoke on the phone every week leading up to my commitment.”
Baillargeon had plenty of interest from the outside and his own hopes and wishes. Then suddenly had an offer from a Patriot League school. He admitted, though, Holy Cross was his No. 1 choice. So, like all good catchers, took the bull by the horns.
“After the other school offered me in the beginning of the week, I called coach Kahovec and asked him where he stood. He said they were interested. Holy Cross was my top option. I really wanted to go there.” His commitment was nailed down on Aug. 3 and Chris and his parents made a trip to Massachusetts shortly after to take in his future home.
“I went up with my parents and we visited the campus, walked around the school and saw the baseball field,” said Baillargeon. “I like the location outside of Boston and the academics are really good. And they have the major I wanted, economics.
Baillargeon’s two eventful years with the Diamond Jacks 16U team just concluded with the fall season.
“Being a part of that team and playing with such high level players really pushed me to be a better player,” he says. “The program is top notch and has a great reputation and that’s a big part of why I was recruited. The Diamond Jacks send kids to a lot of good schools and I am happy to have found a good one for me. The program is a factory for college athletes.”
Baillargeon is one of those athletes he mentions and is an athlete that keeps working to improve in so many areas.
“I take pride in my defense,” he says. “I want to be the best catcher for my pitchers. I want them to like throwing to me, so they feel comfortable on the mound. I want the game to flow through their pitches.”
Baillargeon’s improvement at the plate continues on a steady positive plane, too.
“I try to hit gap-to-gap,” he says. “I’m a contact hitter. I get on base and drive in runs.”
Baillargeon took a week off after the fall season ended but appears to have had enough with the down time.
“I’m ready to get back in the cages to work on my catching and hitting,” he says. “There’s always room to improve. I’m hoping to put a little bit of weight on, 15-20 pounds, this winter.”
Anderson’s recalls a revealing side of Baillargeon, the ballplayer.
“We were at a complex in Georgia and I was looking for someone to play outfield,” said Anderson. “Chris jumped up and said, ‘I’ll do it, coach. Whatever is best for the team.’ When you treat the game that way, it repays you. Chris always comes to play. He’s only 16. He’s not done growing. You see that big jump from 16-18. I’m anxious to see his progress in college. Chris is very mature and handles himself well for a 16 year-old.”