MONTEZUMA - It’s 6 PM at Ruritan Field. I got there early to see the Montezuma Braves hit batting practice. I wanted to watch the whole team hit, but was especially interested in the cleanup man from Bridgewater College – Luke Paczewski.
Paczewski has been on a tear this season in the RCBL. He’s been in the top five for batting average since the season started, and is close to top ten in about every other category – despite having as much as thirty less at-bats then his peers at this point in the season.
Fresh off an All-Star Game appearance, Paczewski was back with his Braves teammates, stationed at third base during batting practice. With two teammates beside him at all times, Paczewski was in good spirits as his team cycled through taking their swings.
“Lambo!! Hey Lambo, hit me one!” Brandon Lambert, or ‘Lambo’, is the Braves’ shortstop, who was taking his BP. He was focusing on his swings, but he also had to deal with a grinning Paczewski calling out distractions to him. A few more pitches were thrown to Lambert, but none were sent to the third base side. “Lambo, what’s wrong with you?”
Paczewski was either lobbing this kind of banter at the batter, or talking with the two guys next to him as he fielded any ground balls cleanly that came his way. That’s what should be expected of someone that Coach Rush called “an amazing teammate and player.”
Once batting practice wrapped, Paczewski and I met up beside the dugout and walked over to the home side bleachers, where we had a conversation about baseball, life goals, and yes, that unique last name of his.
I’ve gotta ask you first – how many people get your last name wrong?
Everybody. Everybody does.
What’s the most common one?
[Laughs] Pajewski…people throw ‘J’s’ in there a little bit. Mike Wazowski [from Monsters Inc.] is a good second.
I was going to say – isn’t there a nickname the guys call you?
Most guys, actually Seth Berry on Elkton, starting calling me “Produce-ki” after the first couple games, but that’s faded away a little bit.
Well, the fans are getting to know you for sure. I’m going to read off some of your stats here - .408 batting average, 8 runs, 12 RBIs, 6 doubles; and that’s in 12 games. Do you have a goal that you want to be at a certain average, or have certain stats?
I never look for average. I never really focus on stats – there’s a lot of parts to the game of baseball that go hidden, basically, and nobody looks at them. They’re the small little jobs of the game that help teams win, like dropping a sacrifice down, or hitting behind runners, or less than two outs hitting a deep fly ball – that kind of thing. But, I never really shoot for stats, I want the team to do well and I want to be a part of it.
I did want to ask you about that – you’ve been batting third and fourth in the lineup. Do you feel there’s a certain responsibility to be doing those little things, like you said?
Yeah, especially when I hit in the four-hole. Usually I’ll have guys in front of me that’ll get on base. [Kyle] Armstrong typically gets on, and it’s just getting those guys in, doing the little things. Then PJ [Hanisak] hits behind me most of the time, and whether I get them in, PJ will definitely get them in, so I know in the middle of the lineup, you got to get your job done.
Do you prefer hitting fourth?
I actually prefer third. I feel like I see more fastballs, I got used to it hitting there at college, and I just feel comfortable there, third or fifth.
Yeah, and there’s also a disconnect between what you do at Bridgewater, which is a little different than what you do here in the summer. You’re over here [playing] third base over the summer. Why does that happen?
[Laughs] Well, I started out at Bridgewater [College] as a third baseman, and I got into some hip problems – I had hip surgery, and my mobility started going down a little bit. I actually just had hip surgery last year, and [Bridgewater] moved me to first base. But then coming here, there was a hole [at the position], and I jumped in it, and I’m happy to be back at third base.
How has the hip been doing with that?
Good! Actually, this is the best I’ve felt in years, which is awesome. I feel really good, and I love this league, which helps too.
Yeah, and at the All-Star Game you were starting at third base. The West team did pretty good in that one! What’s your relationship like with some of those guys on the team?
A lot of them graduated from Bridgewater, so it’s easy to start talking to some of the guys, and the guys in the league are just a good group of guys. It’s a good league, good players, and it’s really easy to talk to some guys. But it’s always good to be talking to guys who graduated from the school, talking about the tradition and how to get Bridgewater College back on that level. But yeah, it was fun, it was good to meet some of the guys, since it was my first year it was definitely cool.
So, anything you’re taking from that All-Star Game and bringing back here to these guys?
Just have fun. That’s probably the biggest thing going in as a young player, everybody is gung-ho about everything. Sometimes you got to just let loose and have fun – I mean, it’s a game, and you’ve got to love playing to do good.
The one thing that I didn’t know about you, and probably a lot of fans don’t know, is that you’re pursuing your EMT certification. Why is that important to you?
Well, it’s a long story, but I’ll make it short. My dad listening is probably going to kill me for it…but back in 2016 or 2015 I was a freshman, and my dad was involved in a head-on collision back home, and was in the hospital for a month. That kind of turned our world upside down. About a year later, there was a car accident near my house, and my mom being an RN and my sister being an RN, we went to it to see what was going on, and when the EMT showed up, one of the EMT’s who worked my dad’s incident was there, and we just kind of broke down and gave him a hug. At that moment, I knew that was something I wanted to do.
And, Laura Clark, former rescue chief at Bridgewater, she’s still there, she kind of brought me under her wing, and kind of honed me down and made me love to be in the medical field and do it for the right reasons.
Yeah man. I think it’s also cool that you’re planning on staying around here after you graduate.
Yeah, I want to work for Rockingham County Fire & Rescue, that’s my big goal, and then sometime in my life pursuing to become a paramedic. But, you know, meeting the guys in the area, volunteering with Bridgewater Rescue Squad – it’s one big family, and it seems like the kind of thing I want to be a part of.
That’s great, man. And it’s great to have the team mentality in both that and baseball, especially when it’s something really cool like that. To bring it back to the RCBL, you guys have got some work to do in the tail end of the season – starting with tonight. What’s your approach going into tonight?
Just keep it simple. I think most guys will tell you, as long as they stay in the middle of the field, and don’t get too out in front of the pitching, typically your approach stays pretty good, and you tend to have good at-bats. Even if you get out, if you’re hitting the ball hard it’s still a good night. I think our pitchers have got to throw, but as a hitter, just keep it simple.
Any predictions for tonight?
I hope we come out on top! I feel confident that we’re gonna get a win here, I think coming off a long break we had, I think it was eight days, we feel recharged, and we want to get after it.
Paczewski’s line that night? 2-5 with a run scored – batting from the number three spot in the lineup.
Be sure to stay tuned to the RCBL website as the regular season comes to an exciting conclusion and the playoffs come into focus.