By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
One of Bobby Spicer’s all-time favorite bands is Rush, the Canadian progressive rock band that became popular in the 1970s and 80s with such songs as “Tom Sawyer”, “Limelight” and “Spirit of Radio.” And while the band did score some mainstream hits, generally it’s had a cult-like following that is extremely passionate and loyal. Rush was known for consistently cranking out albums that its fans loved, but perhaps went underappreciated by the masses.
That’s Spicer’s high school baseball career in a nutshell. Ask any Spartans fan and they will tell you Spicer is the oil that makes the whole machine run, but off the grounds of the Absecon school, Spicer doesn’t necessarily have a high profile in the baseball world. He’s only about 5-foot-9, weighs maybe 150 pounds and doesn’t light up the radar gun when he’s on the mound. But this edition’s Old Cape Recycling Scholar Athlete is the kind of kid you want to have on your team. He works his tail off — both on the field and in the classroom — doesn’t hoot and holler, and doesn’t give a rip if he makes it onto the front page of the paper. He just wants to win.
“You can see in the way he plays baseball, he’s one of the smartest kids on the field. That helps him on the mound, for sure. He’s not overpowering, but he knows how to pitch. He’s very economical and uses his defense. He’s the same way as a hitter and a center fielder — he’s smart, puts himself in good position, he works at-bats and you can put any sign on with him at the plate. That’s why he’s been a leadoff or No. 2 hitter for us, because I know I can bunt with him, hit-and-run, whatever I want. I know he understands what I’m trying to do, and how to execute it,” said Holy Spirit coach Steve Normane. “He understand how to pitch. He’s not just getting on the mound and throwing whatever pitch is called. If he wants to throw a certain pitch in a situation, he’s more than willing to shake somebody off and go after guys the way he wants. He’s smart out there, which is important. You can’t just be a robot out there. If (coach Jason) Downey calls a pitch and Spicer remembers from a previous at-bat or game that this kid might be vulnerable on a slider or a cut fastball, he’s willing to shake the call off, and we’re fine with that.”
Spicer said he hoped to be an impact player on the varsity when he arrived at Holy Spirit, and he got his wish sophomore year as he was thrown into the fire of an intense playoff run that culminated with the Spartans winning their first state championship since the early 1980s — back when Rush was enjoying the height of its popularity.
“Coming in, I obviously strived to get on varsity my freshman year but we had a senior-heavy team. It seemed pretty quick to get up there sophomore year and they put me in some tough situations, but I just tried to keep my head together and keep myself ready. I’ve never been put into that type of pressure before, but my coaches were good with me trying to keep my composure. My arm trouble was starting up toward the end of that year. It would hurt during warmups, but then the adrenaline would kick in. I was focused, looking at my catcher’s glove and trying to stay on top of everything,” Spicer said. “It was pretty cool because our main pitchers were all sophomores with me, Billy Kral and Jules Massella. I had never had any experience with high school playoffs and didn’t know what to expect, but fortunately I was able to play my best that year. I’ve been small my whole life, and it was kind of cool how the older guys who were a foot taller than me were cheering me on. That made me want to go out and pitch better the next inning.”
Spicer is now a senior, and Normane and assistant coaches Jason Downey and Bob Soifer look to him and the other veterans to lead the way for the next crop of Spartans.
“Our younger guys learn from him. They see how he works and how he goes about his business. Hopefully they are taking mental notes because he’s obviously very effective,” Normane said. “And he’s not the only one. We have a bunch of smart baseball players on our team who know how to play the game.”
Spicer has matched his athletic success with his pursuits in the classroom. He is ranked No. 12 in his senior class, and plans to attend Rowan University next fall to study economics.
“At Holy Spirit, we have a tough curriculum and we demand a lot of our students, and to have a kid like him who can set the example is huge,” Normane said.
“It’s tough, but I’m a student-athlete and the student part comes first, so I have to take care of business in the classroom first, then I can come out to the field and have some fun,” Spicer said. “Academics came naturally to me in grade school and middle school, but it’s like baseball — raw talent only gets you so far. Then you need to be able to work on it to shine.”
And, just like he’s had to make adjustments in the classroom, Spicer has learned how to best use his talents on the baseball field.
“Once I got to varsity, I had to change my approach when it came to pitching. My slider wasn’t striking guys out anymore,” he said. “I didn’t necessarily develop new pitches, but I worked on my off-speed pitches because at the higher level they weren’t good enough to get it past anyone. It turned me into a contact pitcher. It made me be more accurate, because if I wasn’t I would get shelled.”
Spicer credits the coaching staff for turning he and the other seniors into the types of leaders they are today.
“Coach Soifer helps me and the other seniors with that. He tells us whatever we do, the younger guys are going to take on our habits, so if we’re doing stuff we shouldn’t be doing they are going to do the same thing. So we have to make sure we are doing things the right way,” Spicer said.
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays
By DAVE O’SULLIVAN