ARMONK – Frankie Vesuvio remembers his previous at-bats against George Kirby vividly. Not because he hit one of his majestic home runs against Rye’s flame-throwing ace, or even a bloop single.
No doubt, the reigning Journal News Westchester/Putnam baseball player of the year recalls taking some big hacks against Kirby. But those mighty swings were rarely followed by solid contact.
“He struck me out four times last year,” Vesuvio said without hesitation, as if the at-bats were constantly replaying in his head. “I wouldn’t say it’s scary, but I get excited. … I love seeing a guy throw 90 (mph) and coming at you with good breaking pitches. It’s fun getting in the (batter’s) box against someone like that.”
Much of the same can be said about Vesuvio.
Like Kirby, the Byram Hills ace sports a fastball that is consistently clocked above 90 mph. And the two senior right-handers are reportedly getting looked at by professional scouts as the Major League Baseball Draft approaches in June.
The two best pitchers in Section 1? You can certainly make a strong case.
“I’m on the same team as Kirby, so I never see pitchers like that,” Rye catcher Chase Pratt said. “When I saw (Vesuvio) last year, I was definitely thrown off a little bit. We heard he threw hard, but to really see it from the box is a whole different game.”
Not only do Byram Hills and Rye have two of the top arms in the Lower Hudson Valley, but they also have two of the best teams.
Here’s a quick history lesson on this budding rivalry.
Two years ago, Rye won the Class A section title and came within one win of a state title, which is when Kirby emerged as a dominant force. Last year, Rye started 16-0 and was ranked No. 1 in the state until Byram handed the Garnets their first loss, a 15-2 blowout on Rye’s home field at Disbrow Park. The Garnets returned the favor the following week, but the third and final meeting went in the Bobcats’ favor, a 4-3 win in the section final.
Byram went on to win the first state championship in program history, but many feel that Rye was the second-best team in the state.
“It’s definitely become a rivalry because we’ve been in the same league for the last few years,” Rye coach Mike Bruno said. “We thought if we won that (section title) game, we could have been hoisting a state championship. We thought the talent was similar; they just played a better game that day.”
There are several teams that will have their say in Class A this season. John Jay, Lakeland, Beacon, Eastchester, Harrison, Nyack and many others feel good about their chances. But there’s a very good chance that any team with championship aspirations will have to go through Byram or Rye — or both.
The Bobcats have to replace most of their starting infield from 2015, but their pitching staff could be even better than it was a year ago. Not only do they return Vesuvio, but fellow senior Anthony Russo is back after missing last season due to labrum surgery.
Russo was considered Byram’s ace in 2013 and 2014 when Vesuvio was being used as a closer.
“I think we have one of the better staffs that Byram Hills has ever had,” said senior catcher Kevin Wietsma, who also mentioned lefty Jonathan Kaiser and righty Greg Giuliani.
The Garnets have to replace No. 2 pitcher and leadoff hitter Tim DeGraw, who is now the starting center fielder at Yale, but Pratt, Kirby, Mat Bruno, Ryan Ciardiello and Tim Hale are returning starters who should carry the lineup.
“We’re returning a bunch of guys,” Kirby said. “We’ve got a great offense going so far from looking at all of the batters in the cages. Our defense is good, we’ve got good coaches and I definitely think we can make a run.”
Byram and Rye won’t play until May 10, so those who are looking forward to the matchup will have to be patient. But make no mistake: Those two league games will be must-see, particularly if Vesuvio and Kirby square off on the mound.
In three head-to-head meetings last season, the two aces never pitched in the same game. Local baseball fans can only hope the stars align in 2016.
If it happens, expect to see some scouts wielding radar guns positioned behind home plate.
“I think ESPN should be coming down to watch that one,” Pratt said. “That’s like Rye-Harrison football to us this year. For baseball, it’s Kirby-Vesuvio. Our whole school knows him now, and it’s a full-blown rivalry at this point.”