It’s been close to a year since Hopewell’s Daniel Whitecavage and North Mecklenburg’s Adam Venditti graduated from high school. Since then, the former I-MECK 4A all-conference catchers have spent their time wisely in the college baseball ranks. Whitecavage shined in his first season at Surry Community College this spring, which is just a short trip north on Interstate 77. Venditti stayed a little closer to home, joining Belmont-Abbey College’s Division II team.
This summer, both players returned home and joined Huntersville Post 321’s American Legion team to keep their skills sharp. Since Whitecavage and Venditti play the same position, the former crosstown rivals have been forced to share home plate, alternating games at catcher for Post 321’s first-place team.
Unlike the Hatfields and the McCoys, however, it appears a Viking and a Titan can actually get along. In fact, Whitecavage and Venditti have done more than play nice with each other; the two catchers have come together as team leaders on coach Trevin Smith’s squad. If you ask Smith, there never really was a competitive rivalry at all.
“They make a real good combo,” said Smith. “We rotate them to keep them fresh because we play nine innings every game. I believe leadership starts behind home plate, and they have been the leaders of our team.
“This isn’t a competitive situation between the two.”
Truth be told, Whitecavage and Venditti were friends and teammates before they started high school. The pair grew up playing together on travel teams such as the University City Express. They know each other well and laughed at the idea that they didn’t get along because they played for opposing high schools.
They get along so well that Whitecavage offered up his turn to start at catcher after he heard that one of Venditti’s college coaches – Belmont-Abbey assistant Kyle Geswein – was the head coach of Huntersville’s opponent that night, the Gaston Braves Post 144. So Whitecavage played left field, allowing Venditti to earn some valuable face time with Geswein at his college position.
“Adam and Daniel always try to help each other out,” said Smith.
Smith has had the ability to shuffle the lineup often this summer. His laid-back approach is one of the big reasons both Venditti and Whitecavage returned for another summer of Legion baseball. The pair fit nicely into the middle of the Huntersville lineup, joining recently graduated Titans Michael Russell (who’s headed to the University of North Carolina) and Hunter Conley (Lenoir-Rhyne); North Meck’s Paul Leonard (UNC Pembroke); Mallard Creek’s Mikal Hill (South Carolina); and SouthLake Christian’s Jared Fortune (Catawba College). Combined, the team is an offensive juggernaut that won its first eight games of the season.
American Legion baseball’s nine-inning format – compared to seven innings in high school baseball – allows plenty of playing time for Venditti and
Whitecavage, who as freshmen might have struggled to earn innings on college baseball summer teams. When Whitecavage is behind the plate, the not-exactly-fleet-of-foot Venditti plays first base so Smith can keep his big bat in the order. Both Venditti and Whitecavage have rewarded Smith with stellar play this season, even though their styles are completely different.
“You can’t miss Adam,” said Smith. “Adam is loud, while Whitecavage goes about his business. Sometimes you don’t even realize Daniel played until you see how good his stats were after the game.”
The differences in playing style aren’t limited to leadership technique, either.
“Adam is a lot bigger and slower,” added Smith. “He hit a home run, and it took him five minutes to get around the base paths. Daniel hit a grand slam against Denver, and he got around so fast you didn’t notice he hit a home run.”
A year away from home
During his senior season at Hopewell, Whitecavage was offered several opportunities to play for small-college baseball programs. But when he didn’t find the ideal team, he accepted an invitation to join Surry Community College, with hopes of improving his stock two years after he graduated high school.
Surry, which finished 36-16 last season, has been a perennial top-10 team in the National Junior College Athletic Association rankings this decade.
Whitecavage took full advantage of his opportunity, finishing his first season of junior college baseball with a .418 batting average, the third highest on the squad. In 67 at-bats, he had 28 hits, one home run and 20 RBIs. It’s quite an impressive start for a first-year player, but the soft-spoken Whitecavage isn’t one to brag.
“I thought I did all right,” Whitecavage said humbly. “I went to community college to get another two years of baseball and get another chance to be recruited.”
Venditti did not see as much action at Belmont-Abbey, but last year was still an important experience. Venditti redshirted his freshman year so he could get adjusted to baseball and school at the next level.
It’s a decision he doesn’t regret.
“College baseball is a tough adjustment after playing in high school with people you’ve known all your life,” said Venditti. “It was in my best interest to watch and learn without wasting a year of eligibility on the bench. The decision will pay off in my fifth season of baseball.”
Smith, who coached both players last summer, said college has made a world of difference for Venditti and Whitecavage. Both have matured physically after a year in the weight room, and Smith has leaned heavily on their poise this summer. Only three players on the Huntersville roster have college-level experience. The other is Long Island University third baseman Diego Perez, who played at Mallard Creek.
“(Venditti and Whitecavage) are both a lot bigger, especially Venditti,” said Smith. “You can tell they have refined their games and the game has slowed down for them.”
American Legion baseball has a maximum age limit of 19, so this will be Venditti and Whitecavage’s final season under Smith. With both players behind the plate, Huntersville hopes to defend its Area IV Eastern Division title and improve on its second-round exit in the 2010 Legion playoffs. If not, both Venditti and Whitecavage still expect to have plenty of fun playing for Smith this summer.
“We have a heck of a team, and this should be one of the best summers of baseball in the program’s history,” said Venditti. “It’s a good chance to get plenty of playing time.”
Of course, playing time for Venditti and Whitecavage comes along with a stipulation: They have to split time at their position with a former rival.
Then again, that hasn’t been such a bad thing, especially for the Post 321 squad.