Baseball: Papcun is hitting for power, and a better average

Peter Papcun, who leads the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League with five home runs, will represent North Fork in the league's first Home Run Derby. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)
Peter Papcun, who leads the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League with five home runs, will represent North Fork in the league’s first Home Run Derby. (Credit: Daniel De Mato, file)

Home run. Round-trippper. Bomb. Tater. Dinger. Moon shot. Four-bagger.

There are plenty of words that refer to the home run. In fact, posted what it refers to as a “be all, and end all” list of 45 alternative names for the home run.

Who doesn’t love the long ball? The home run has a mystique. The process of a player batting a ball over a fence generates excitement and makes for baseball’s sexiest statistic.

Peter Papcun knows a thing or two about home runs. The North Fork Ospreys player, who has been playing mostly in the outfield, leads the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League with five of them. So, fittingly enough, Papcun was selected to represent the Ospreys in the league’s first Home Run Derby on Wednesday at Baseball Heaven in Yaphank.

While riding on the team bus home from a game on Sunday, Papcun saw the news of his selection on Twitter. He soon began receiving congratulatory text messages.

The only other home run derby Papcun competed in was when he was a sixth-grader playing in the Cal Ripken Little League in Brick, N.J. He finished in second place.

Papcun, 6 foot 1, 185 pounds, described himself as a line-drive hitter who tries to find the gaps, but he obviously has power to drive the ball. “Usually when I hit my home runs I get all of them, so they’re pretty good shots,” he said. He estimated that his longest home run traveled at least 400 feet in Southampton (“That place is like a graveyard”).

Before Papcun stepped up to the plate during an 18-9 defeat of the Southampton Breakers on Monday night, he was announced as “the league leader.”

In high school, Papcun was a member of a county champion Christian Brothers Academy team in New Jersey. He didn’t play much this past spring during his freshman year at Monmouth University (N.J.). He started in eight games and played in 23 for the Hawks — and didn’t hit a single home run. He struggled at the plate, hitting .147.

Papcun had a slow start to the HCBL season, too, but, with the help of his father, also named Peter, he has steadily raised his batting average to .244.

One day about a month ago, father and son worked on the younger Papcun’s swing and tweaked some things. “We said, ‘We’re going to hit for about three hours and we’re going to figure it out and we’re going to get back on track,’ ” said Papcun, who has struck out 26 times in 78 at-bats.

The Ospreys manager, Bill Ianniciello, has seen an improvement in Papcun, who likes the feel and balance of the wood bats used in the HCBL.

“He’s coming around,” Ianniciello said. “He’s hit some long balls. He struggled with his batting average for a while. He has more strikeouts than he’d like, but he’s coming along. He made some adjustments in his approach. He’s been getting some better at-bats. He’s been hitting some balls very hard.”

So, what is the secret to hitting home runs?

“It’s kind of funny because you get told this your whole life,” Papcun said. “It’s pretty much you got to have fun out there and be like, your brain’s got to be clear. You can’t go up there thinking. You got to think you control the play. I got the bat in the hand. The pitcher’s not going to get me out.”

One surefire recipe for failure, batters often say, is trying to hit a home run.

“You’ll swing over the ball and keep striking out,” said Papcun.

Connecting the sweet spot of the bat barrel to the ball for a home run, Papcun said, is “the most effortless, easy swing. You don’t feel the ball hit the bat.”

Despite their popularity, Ianniciello doesn’t believe players should obsess about home runs.

“We don’t talk about home runs,” he said. “I just scolded them yesterday for spending too much time in BP hitting trying to hit home runs. Make your batting practice purposeful. Jacking the ball out is not purposeful. They’re products of the ESPN age. They all want to work on their bat flip.”

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