IF YOU WANT a different way to appreciate the power with which Josh Ockimey mashes baseballs, keep your eyes closed the next time you watch Ss. Neumann-Goretti High, because when the ball leaves his bat - the sound is unmistakable.
Yesterday beneath a beautiful blue sky at 26th and Moore, baseball's springtime city sound track was in full effect. Birds chirped as cars whizzed past while hey-batter-batter banter flew from both dugouts.
And when he stepped to the plate, Ockimey would read a simple message on his bat, clear his mind and pierce through all the noise with a simple swing of the bat. And that was with a tweaked lower back, which forced him into designated-hitter duty.
"No smirk, these knuckles hurt," he said after the host Saints dispatched Bishop McDevitt, 4-0, in Catholic League Blue play. The line is from one of his favorite hip-hop songs.
"I don't know why that clears my mind, but it does. So before every pitch, I just look at the bat and say, 'No smirk, these knuckles hurt.' And I step in the box and whatever pitch comes, I hit it."
With respect to his teammates and competitors who produced a few forceful "pings" yesterday, Ockimey created a clamor that sounded more like a sledgehammer assaulting a railroad track.
"It's just the sound of, 'Hey I squared the ball up.' And that's the approach every time. Fastball approach and square the ball up: that's what I take out of every at-bat. If I square the ball up, I say that's a good at-bat."
On second thought, don't close your eyes if he's at the plate! Keep your head on a swivel. Lisa Doudican found that out last week after taking an Ockimey foul ball off her foot while trying to capture photos near first base.
Her son Pat, a junior lefthander, started yesterday and pitched around four walks while striking out 10 in 4 2/3 innings. Senior Joe McGinley knocked in two runs for the Saints (7-2).
Danny Erlich went 2-for-4 and led McDevitt (0-6), which didn't help its pitchers with four fielding errors. N-G wasn't crisp either, committing three errors and only mustering four hits, all singles.
"Just gotta come back hungrier next game," Ockimey said. "Our goal is to win three championships this year: Catholic League, city league and state. I'd bet every dollar I have that we'll go 110 percent every game [now]."
The 6-2, 215-pound lefty, who teammates call "Ock," could be seen stretching his lower back whenever possible after a Sunday weight-room session left some stiffness. He still went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks (one intentional) and a few impressive shots.
Facing a Ryan Howard-type shift in the first, he ripped a catch-it-or-eat-it liner to shortstop Jimmy Templeton, who said later, "Luckily it hit my webbing so it didn't hurt my hand at all." A teammate asked Templeton, "See your life flash before your eyes?"
When Ockimey came up in the third, Lancers' starter Brendan Hanagan had a meeting with catcher Luke Meizinger and then promptly bounced the first pitch two feet in front of the plate.
Hanagan, who allowed just three hits, but walked nine, issued a free pass after that pitch. In the sixth, Ockimey scalded a grounder through the shift in right.
"I remember I saw the shift and I kinda laughed a little bit. Man, I'm getting the Big Papi [David Ortiz]-Ryan Howard shift," he joked. "Nothing changes. If you hit it hard, you hit it hard. And if it catches a glove, well, then that's why they have nine people out there."
A few professional and collegiate scouts were there also. Ockimey, who lives at 78th and Lindbergh, is committed to Indiana University, but still has interest from MLB scouts. He said all the attention was "nerve-wracking at first . . . but I love that stuff now."
This season, he is hitting .645 (20-31) with 17 runs scored, 15 RBI (team leader), seven doubles and two home runs. His on-base percentage is .738.
"No smirk, these knuckles hurt," is the motto.
"They say throw the hands because you don't have to swing with all my might," he said. "If you take a look at Ryan Howard and Adrian Gonzalez, they don't always swing hard. They get their hands through the zone fast and there's a difference between that and swinging hard. Do that and the ball comes off a lot harder."
But, Ockimey said numbers don't drive him. Winning does, and letting people know what he's really about.
"As long as people know my name and know that I take pride in stuff," he said. "That's mostly what I aim for. I just take pride in everything I do."