Naperville Central catcher Colin Barczi knows he has a bright future.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior has committed to play at Vanderbilt, one of the top college programs in the country, and has long dreamed about playing in the major leagues.
But that’s not what is on his mind this spring.
“The most important thing is focusing on just making sure we all play as a team,” Barczi said. “It’s not individual. It’s that you’re always picking up your teammates and providing energy.
“Sometimes baseball can be a selfish sport, especially when you’re struggling. In your own head, you might be down on yourself, but you have to stay up because that’s what we need to really make it far.”
Barczi, who batted .482 with eight doubles, four triples, 13 home runs and 31 RBIs in 83 at-bats in 2022, is a two-time DuPage Valley Conference MVP and Naperville Sun Player of the Year. Prep Baseball Report ranks him as the top catcher and sixth-best senior in Illinois.
But playoff success has eluded the Redhawks, who were upset in the regional final in each of the past two seasons despite being seeded first in their sectional in 2021 and second in 2022.
Eight starters return, including Barczi’s fellow co-captain, UIC-bound shortstop Pambos Nicoloudes.
“He and Pambos are both strong leaders,” Naperville Central coach Mike Stock said. “They complement each other well. Pambos is a little vocal and fiery leader, whereas Colin is a little bit more subdued but still with the same competitive inner fire as Pambos and anybody on our team.”
That fire fuels Barczi.
“He is about winning,” Stock said. “Our challenge is to raise each other’s games, and he knows that what we want him doing right now is concentrating on himself but also demanding of his teammates. It’s a nice position to be in.”
The Redhawks seem to be in position to win a lot. But Stock added a new wrinkle to their preparation by bringing in a mental skills coach to talk with the players.
Barczi welcomed the advice.
“He talked about the mental side of the game, which was great for us,” Barczi said. “Everyone enjoyed it, and we were all participating.
“It’s such a huge part of the game that a lot of people don’t really focus on. They’re always focusing on lifting weights or on their swing, but the mental part is such a huge part of baseball. If you don’t have the confidence or the want to be out there every day, you’re going to fail no matter how talented you are.”
Barczi doesn’t lack the want. He lifts weights and consumes plenty of calories so he can bulk up to do his favorite thing — hit home runs.
Pro scouts put a premium on power-hitting catchers, but Barczi is about more than slugging.
“I love being the leader, the guy that controls the staff and is always a part of the game,” he said. “So I make sure my legs are healthy and strong so that I can play the position for as long as I want to.
“I don’t want to be one of those guys that they just put in the outfield.”
Barczi’s father Scott played minor league baseball in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ organization and is a trusted confidant. Another role model is former Redhawks star Nicky Lopez, who is the starting shortstop for the Kansas City Royals.
Lopez visited Naperville Central last year, and Barczi got to meet him.
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“We were in school, and I got a text from Pambos and some of my other teammates, and they’re like, ‘I’m calling you out of class right now, get down here,’” Barczi recalled. “I got to talk to him for a little and take a picture with him. Awesome.”
Stock also coached Lopez and would not bet against Barczi making the pros.
“He’s scratching the surface, and it’s exciting,” Stock said. “Some of the reason why it’s similar to Nicky is that while that’s what he wants, he’s not skipping this step.
“He knows how important it is to get his work in, to get to the edge where he’s playing the best. He needs to stay focused where he’s at, and he seems to be enjoying that.”
Barczi said he hopes the Redhawks will enjoy playing well into June.
“We’ve got a lot of talent this year, and if we have that high-energy mindset when the playoffs come, I think we’ll make it a lot farther this year,” he said. “This is the year for us.”
Matt Le Cren is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.