BECAUSE OF HIS almost-forever fascination with the earth and sky, Marc Berlanger plans to major in geoscience at Bloomsburg University.
Did someone say earth and sky? Thursday, those words were quite the fit for Berlanger's first two at-bats in an important Catholic Red baseball game.
In both, he drove deep fly balls toward almost the exact same part of dead rightfield. The first launching offered momentary hope, then returned him to earth. The second sent him soaring sky high!
Berlanger, a 5-11, 185-pound senior, is the centerfielder and cleanup hitter for Father Judge High. And in a 7-2 win over visiting/hosting St. Joseph's Prep, which prevented the Hawks from capturing the division title (La Salle claimed it with an 8-0 win over Roman Catholic; Tom Cockill allowed two hits over six innings), he went 1-for-2 with a three-run homer.
Oh, about the visiting/hosting reference. The game was scheduled for Richie Ashburn Field, in South Philly, but wet grounds made it unavailable. Friday would not have worked, either, because of the Phillies' RBI program, so coach Joe Falcone offered to switch the site to the turf field at Ramp Playground, across the street from Judge.
Because of Ascension Thursday, there was no school, and the Crusaders were scheduled to board a bus for South Philly at 1:30.
"Then we got here and found the game had been switched," Berlanger said. "That was cool. We'd rather play home than away."
Really? Just before the game began, a Judge assistant had been heard to crack, "The visiting team has done pretty well here this year. Maybe we can keep that going."
The Prep, of course, batted last.
In the visiting first, with Jeff Seigafuse on base, Berlanger drove one to the warning track for out No. 3.
In the third, after Mike O'Hanlon and Seigafuse (singles) moved up on a groundout by winning pitcher Josh Teson, Berlanger got every last bit of a curve to post a three-run homer, thus upping the Crusaders' lead to 4-0.
Of his almost-dinger, Berlanger said: "At first, I thought I hit it well enough, but . . . Hearing the sound of the bat, with it being more of a thump instead of a pop, that automatically told me, 'Ah, that's gonna stay in.'
"To see that is demoralizing to any player. Your next time up, you just have to clear your head and pretend it's 0-0. You have to think that if you swing the bat and make contact, good things will happen."
Of the real thing, he said: "I knew that was out. Hearing that sound is every hitter's dream. I watched it going up the first-base line, but then I stopped, because I didn't want to see a replay of it dropping into the rightfielder's glove. Plus, it's always gotta be, 'Hustle around the bases.' "
Berlanger, a lefty swinger and thrower, began the season hitting seventh. The more he produced, the more he figured he might be heading upward.
Then the Crusaders visited Roman Catholic, coach Tim Ginter posted the lineup and, bingo, Berlanger was in the four hole. Soon, a homer was crashing into the trees above the high fence in centerfield.
"My thinking changed in the cleanup spot," Berlanger said. "It became, 'He's showing faith in me and now I really have to do my job.' I'd been producing. Just had to keep it going."
On a groundout and single, Bill Romano bagged one RBI apiece in the second and third. In the seventh, Ryan O'Neill sliced a two-run single down the leftfield line. Teson (four innings) and frosh Dan Hammer allowed one run apiece, and the Prep's RBI went to Shane Williams on a single and sacrifice fly.
Beforehand and during, Berlanger, who lives on Foster Street, not far from Bustleton Avenue and Tomlinson Road, was unaware of the game's significance.
"Just another day of playing my favorite game," he said.
When told his heroics had helped to sentence the Prep to second place, he uncorked a smile as bright as 10 Christmas trees.
"It's probably good didn't tell us," he said. "Would have made for more pressure."
Meanwhile, Berlanger drew walks in his third and fourth plate appearances and the Hawks especially appeared to pitch around him in No. 3.