At some point, every great baseball player needs to be discovered. For Balboa catcher Nikolas Fangonilo, his moment of unearthing came in the most unlikely of places.
Playing in the tucked-away confines of Crocker Amazon field in front of an estimated crowd of 20, Fangonilo made the right impression with the right person — former major-leaguer Bip Roberts.
Roberts, the assistant coach at Skyline in Oakland, witnessed a breakout performance from Fangonilo when Balboa took on the Titans on Feb. 14. Fangonilo had two hits, threw out a would-be base stealer and called an admirable game from behind the plate to lead the Buccaneers to a 3-2 victory.
“[Roberts] came up to me after the game and said he was impressed with me,” Fangonilo said. “He said that he would put in a good word for me at UNLV [Roberts’ alma mater] and that I could play Division I ball.”
If Fangonilo ends up at UNLV, it would be an apt finish to a stellar career at Balboa, in which the senior has been a major reason for the Buccaneers’ recent resurgence.
During Fangonilo’s freshman season, Balboa struggled through a dismal 1-13 record in Academic Athletic Association play. But now, just three years removed from their 10th-place finish, the Buccaneers sit atop the AAA standings at 7-0 (Balboa’s game against Wallenberg on Wednesday was postponed when the umpires failed to show).
“He runs the hardest out of all our guys, plays the hardest and works the hardest, which just makes him a great team leader” said Balboa coach John Tynan, whose team is 9-7-1 overall. “We let him call his own game from behind the plate and he rewards us with really smart decisions. He’s the best catcher I’ve ever coached in my 12 years in AAA.”
Fangonilo brings a complete game to the table for Tynan, who spent 10 years with Burton as a head and assistant coach, leading the team in hits, batting average and total bases, while also being one of the most feared catchers in the league to run on.
“People don’t run on him,” Tynan said. “He can hit, call a game and plays solid defense — he deserves a chance to play at the next level.”
While a future in baseball could be in the cards for Fangonilo, for now he will direct his focus on leading Balboa to a AAA title, an expectation that seemed unthinkable just a couple of seasons ago for the Buccaneers.
“If we play like we’re capable, then I think we stack up pretty good with the rest of the league,” Fangonilo said. “We just want to go out and play a perfect game every time out.”