• 57°

Potucek travels long distance to play baseball

Taking some advice from his Florida Atlantic University baseballcoach, catcher Jimmy Potucek went looking for a wooden bat leagueto play in during the summer months. He found a league but it was860 miles from his residence in Miami, Fla.

This summer Potucek’s pilgrimage brought him all the way toBrookhaven to play in the Cotton State League. Overcoming a changein lifestyle and a degree of cultural shock, Potucek discoveredthat baseball still is played between the chalk lines, no matterwhere the diamond is located.

Going the extra mile to try and improve his baseball skills,Potucek has enjoyed playing for the Brookhaven Bandits. Histeammates and local residents have made him feel comfortable.

“I like Brookhaven a lot,” said Potucek “It’s very welcoming.There are a lot of nice people around. It’s not as hyped like it isback home.”

Potucek, 19, is a house guest of the Stan King family. He and ateammate (Robert Young) are using an apartment located behind thepicturesque home on South Jackson Street.

“They (Kings) are treating me really good,” said Potucek. “Youcouldn’t ask for better treatment.”

Potucek, 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, spent his freshman seasonplaying for Florida Atlantic. FAU advanced to the Division Iregional playoffs but was eliminated by the University of MiamiHurricanes.

“We beat Miami 7-3 during the regular season but we couldn’t doit in the regional.” FAU finished with a 45-17 record.

Kevin Cooney, FAU head coach, recommended Potucek participate ina summer baseball league, preferably wooden bat. Inquiries went outand that led him to Mississippi.

“My coach told me to play baseball this summer,” said Potucek.”This was a league that was open. I like the league. There’s goodtalent.

Making the adjustment from an aluminum to wooden bat presents amajor challenge for high school and college-level players. It’salso a taste of the major leagues on a minor league scale.

“Hitting with a wood bat is a lot different,” said Potucek. “Youhave to make sure that you don’t get jammed and that you don’tbreak the bat. You have to drive the ball instead of just swingit.”

The Bandits are under the direction of Pete Young, formerpitching coach at Co-Lin and now with Southwest MississippiCommunity College. Young earned All-American honors at MississippiState and had a brief stint in the major leagues with the BostonRed Sox.

“Pete Young is a good baseball guy,” said Potucek. “He knows hisstuff. He gives me a lot of hints on hitting. I’ve learned a lotfrom him so far.”

Potucek said the level of CSL competition is good. “There’s somegood players.”

The Bandits play their home games at Brookhaven Academy. Theytravel to games in Hattiesburg, Poplarville, Jackson andClinton.

“The road games are real far,” said Potucek “I’m not used todriving a few hours to play in a game.”

Potucek is following the footsteps of his father, Jim, whoplayed at Florida International University in Miami and atMiami-Dade Junior College. He played catcher at both schools. Jimwas drafted by the New York Mets.

“Jimmy has good work habits,” said Coach Young. “No matter howearly I get to the ballpark, he beats me there. He’s always workingon something in the batting cage.

“Jimmy has a knowledge of the game and that helps him a lot,”Young added.

Looking back on his youth baseball league days, Potucek triedseveral positions. “I started out playing middle infield and thirdbase. Then I figured out I was too slow so I thought, ‘Why notcatch?'”

Potucek said he likes catcher. “It’s the best position. You getall the action. You run the team and you run the game. You can talkto the umpires, too.”

The Bandits have struggled offensively with a young squad. Atone point they endured 28 straight scoreless innings.

“Our defense is coming around,” said Potucek. “We struggled alittle bit but our defense is pretty solid. They are a great bunchof guys. They made me feel comfortable in Mississippi.”

He has been working part-time for Gatlin Corporation whichemploys several Brookhaven players. In his spare time, Potuceklikes to fish especially deep sea fishing for marlin and dolphinoff the Florida coast.

For hobbies, he enjoys playing paintball, weightlifting andcooking.

“I love to cook,” said Potucek. “I don’t eat any of those friedfoods on the boulevard.”

Potucek is fascinated by the long trains that rumble through theheart of downtown Brookhaven. The Bandits were nicknamed Brakemenduring their first three years of existence.

Potucek has a younger, brother, Billy, age 17. He’s a shortstopat Westminster Christian in Miami and should play collegebaseball.

Florida Atlantic is located in Boca Raton, Fla. That’s a longway from Brookhaven, too.