Baseball: ‘Meat Truck’ packs a punch at the plate

GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Through Tuesday's games, Jim Pjura was tied for the league lead with 27 runs batted in and tied for second with five home runs.
GARRET MEADE PHOTO | Through Tuesday’s games, Jim Pjura was tied for the league lead with 27 runs batted in and tied for second with five home runs.

The various levels of competition for baseball players are dizzying, from Little League to junior high school to high school to college to the various classes of minor leagues and, ultimately, to the major leagues. North Fork Ospreys manager Bill Ianniciello equates it to a funnel that gets narrower and narrower as players are winnowed out at each level.

Jim Pjura wants to see just how far he can make it up that funnel. Becoming a professional baseball player has been Pjura’s dream since he was a youngster in Shelton, Conn., taking 200 swings a day in a batting cage in his backyard.“Two hundred swings goes a long way,” he said.

All that work has taken Pjura far as an outfielder for Pace University and an all-star designated hitter for the Ospreys in the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League.

Along the way, Pjura has picked up an interesting nickname, “Meat Truck,” in reference to his size (6-foot-4, 210 pounds). But it is Pjura’s batting prowess that has drawn a lot of attention to him this summer. Through Tuesday’s games, he was tied for first in the league with 27 runs batted in and tied for second with five home runs. His batting average was .291.

“He’s helped us a lot with the bat,” Ianniciello said. “He’s got some pop, yeah, a big, strong kid. He’s got some power. He’s capable of hitting the ball the other way, too.”

Because of an ankle problem (a fielder landed on it while Pjura was sliding into third base), Pjura has been used primarily as a designated hitter since joining the Ospreys a couple of weeks into the season. The left-handed slugger usually bats third or fourth in the order.

Ianniciello, who is also an assistant coach at Adelphi University, knew full well what Pjura was capable of from college ball. Pace plays in the same conference as Adelphi.

Asked if he believed Pjura has a future in baseball beyond college, Ianniciello said: “He’s got another year of college. He’s got to put up a big year. He’s got to put up some big power numbers, but he has the tools. He has size. He runs well for a guy his size. He’s got some power and he’s got a lefty stick. He’s got some stuff going for him.”

This past college season, Pjura registered a .297 batting average, five home runs, and 36 RBI.

“I’m a power hitter,” Pjura said in an interview before Sunday’s game, when he went 2 for 4 and drove in two runs in a 9-2 win over the Westhampton Aviators at Aviator Field in Westhampton. “The power’s still developing. I can hit for average, too. I can run a little bit. I’m trying to be a complete player.”

It should be noted that Division II Pace plays in a conference that uses wood bats, as does the HCBL. Hits are earned the old-fashioned way. “No cheapers,” said Pjura.

Defensively, Pjura is a good outfielder who reads the ball well and has an accurate arm, said Ianniciello.

Pjura believes the HCBL is helping him refine his game, particularly in the batter’s box.

“There’s good pitching here,” he said. “This is a pitchers’ league. From the All-Star Game, there were a lot of guys throwing [in the] 90s, a lot of guys from good programs. I think it’s going to definitely help me when I go back to school. I just want to be the best player that I can.”

Is Pjura surprised at how far his skills have taken him?

“I’m not surprised because I have worked hard to get here,” he said, “and I have to work a little harder to try to get to the next level.”

That’s when the funnel gets a little tighter.

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