LAKEWOOD, NJ- Three was the number. On Carlos Tocci‘s third opening day with the Lakewood BlueClaws, the talented outfielder collected three hits to lead the way toward his team’s third-ever victorious home opener.
In their 15th opening day at the Jersey Shore town’s FirstEnergy Park on Thursday, the BlueClaws battled temperatures in the 30’s, rain and the Kannapolis Intimidators (White Sox) down to the wire. In the bottom of the 9th it was a Tocci walk-off single off of right-hander Peter Tago that gave the Class A BlueClaws the win.
The Venezuelan born Tocci, who has cited difficulty in the past adapting to the cold early-season weather in the northeast, didn’t feel the effects of the damp and chilly night this time around. His bat packed all the heat the team needed.
“I have two years in this league, so I know how to play with this weather and I know how to prepare for it prior to the game,” Tocci said with the help of a translator, coach Nelson Prada.
Despite being the hero for the night at the plate and on defense, having made two flat out stellar diving plays in the outfield, the 19-year-old wasn’t through with his work. He spent an additional 20 minutes, or so, in the weight room working with the team trainer following the win.
“My plan now is to get stronger and to hit the ball (with more power),” Tocci shared. “With the strength and conditioning, people from the organization have me working on this sort of program to improve my hitting.”
First-year Lakewood manager Shawn Williams stressed importance of the ability to come through in bone-chilling conditions as being critical to moving up toward the big leagues for a guy like Tocci.
“Your goal down the road is to play in Philly and it’s going to be cold there too, so anytime that you can play in it and learn to play in it, obviously, he had a huge night and it’s a good start for his season,” Williams stated.
Kannapolis kicked off the scoring in the top of the 7th inning, when backstop Deivi Grullon was charged with a passed ball that allowed catcher Brett Austin to score. Lakewood tied the game in the bottom of the inning, when Tocci, who had doubled, scored on a Brad Salgado balk.
Right-handed starting pitcher Ricardo Pinto threw six scoreless innings in his BlueClaws debut, striking out two, while allowing two walks and three hits, but did not factor in the decision. Last year’s 16th round draft selection, righty reliever Calvin Rayburn tossed a scoreless inning for the win.
The BlueClaws and the Intimidators will continue their three-game set when the teams meet at 7:05PM on Friday.