Before he graduates and plays his last game for the Valmeyer Pirates, senior catcher Mark Nappier has a special graduation gift in mind.
What he wants more than anything is a baseball regional championship.
As the lone senior on the Pirates, Nappier would consider it an honor to end Valmeyer’s 45-year streak since winning its last baseball regional title in 1971.
“That’s a streak I want to end this year,” said Nappier, a Southwestern Illinois College recruit selected as the Belleville News-Democrat’s Athlete of the Week. “We’re a small town, but we have a lot of pride in each one of our sports. It would be nice to hold up some hardware for the town and have a nice regional banner up in the gym.
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“The town deserves it a lot.”
The Pirates came painfully close last season, taking an early 3-0 lead against Okawville in the regional championship game only to lose 11-5. The Rockets eventually reached the Class 1A state tournament.
Nappier and his hot bat should help give the Pirates a chance of reaching the regional title game once again since Valmeyer is the top seed at the Class 1A New Athens Regional.
Valmeyer is 19-12-1 and won the Cahokia Conference-Kaskaskia Division title.
We’re a small town, but we have a lot of pride in each one of our sports. It would be nice to hold up some hardware for the town and have a nice regional banner up in the gym. The town deserves it a lot.
Valmeyer senior Mark Nappier
Nappier leads the entire St. Louis area with 46 RBIs and his nine home runs are second in the region behind Westminster’s Jake Matheny. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior is also hitting .434 with 11 doubles, , one triple and 32 runs scored.
“It’s ben a cool experience,” he said of seeing his name high on a list with some of the region’s top players. “You don’t see a lot of people from the small towns up there, guys going up against the big boys from the St. Louis area or the Belleville area.
“But you don’t focus on the leaderboard, not at all. I just want to play to my best ability and do the best I can.”
Valmeyer coach Greg Reinhardt sees some special qualities in Nappier, who has played every position for the Pirates this season except left field.
“He’s not afraid of the moment,” Reinhardt said. “He seems pretty confident in himself and guys are getting on for him. I think he really looks for a pitch that he can drive and this year he’s doing something with it.
“We’re very young and he’s really been the old man out there, the extra coach on the field, behind the plate. He really steadies a lot of those younger pitchers on the mound.”
Nappier credited the players ahead of him and behind him in the cleanup spot in the lineup for helping produce his impressive offensive numbers.
That list includes Easton Wallace (.478, 13 doubles, one homer, 23 RBIs, 33 runs scored), Jake Krekel (.398, 11 doubles, 11 RBIs, 37 runs scored) and Tyler Kempfer (.359, seven doubles, 23 RBIs).
“I’ve always been known for the power, but with the RBIs you need you teammates to get on in front of you,” he said. “With the home runs, you’re just looking for that one mistake — fastball, curveball or change-up — so you can drive the ball.”
We’re very young and he’s really been the old man out there, the extra coach on the field, behind the plate. He really steadies a lot of those younger pitchers on the mound.
Valmeyer coach Greg Reinhardt on Mark Nappier
Reinhardt likes Nappier’s aggressive approach.
“He doesn’t get cheated at the plate,” Reinhardt said. “He gets his cuts in.”
As the numbers suggest, Nappier drives a lot of balls. And his home runs didn’t just come against small-school competition, with two of them coming against Class 4A Alton. He also hit two bombs against Althoff, including one that traveled over the scoreboard at Whitey Herzog Field in Belleville.
“If the ball goes out, it goes out,” Nappier said. “I try to put a good swing on the ball every time I’m at the plate.”
Nappier’s father, Mike Nappier, was a solid third baseman who played for St. Louis University.
The pair share a love of baseball, but also of hunting and fishing.
“I’m more of a duck and goose hunter than anything,” Mark Nappier said, though the competitive streak that helps drive him in baseball crosses over to deer hunting as well. “Dad usually takes home the biggest buck but I let him slide, he needs some recognition.
“He usually gets the bigger deer, but I like to shoot the first one.”
Nappier’s summer teams last season were the Quakes travel team and St. Louis Recruits. He said he plans on playing for a team in the Metro Collegiate League in St. Louis this summer along with the Valmeyer Lakers in the Mon-Clair League.
He hopes to put that summer ball off for as long as possible while helping Valmeyer on a long playoff run.
“I think we had to learn some things from last year and build upon them,” he said. “That should help when we get to the regional games. I am, the lone senior; I never had to really a lead a team before because we were senior-heavy last year.
“It’s been fun getting to teach the younger players something about the game.”
Reinhardt believes as good as Nappier is now, his best baseball is still ahead of him.
“I think there’s still a lot of upside with Mark because he’s got a lot of filling out to do,” Reinhardt said. “He’s come a long way as a catcher, he’s got a good release and very few teams run on him.”