Lee County catcher Manny Chavarria is known for his defensive skills as well as his leadership. (Staff Photo: Tim Morse)
LEESBURG — The game-winning runner stood 90 feet away at third base, eyeing Lee County High School catcher Manny Chavarria.
Pitcher Matt Hatcher received the pitch signal from assistant coach Brian Trivette. He and Chavarria knew it was going to be a curveball and it was going to tail away from the right-handed batter at the plate.
For some catchers, those kind of pitches often slip behind and roll to the backstop.
But not for Chavarria. He thrives in them and looks forward to the challenge.
“I love those kinds of situations,” the junior said. “There’s nothing like making a good defensive stop or throwing somebody out. Those things never get old.”
While Lee County baseball hasn’t gotten off to a promising start at 6-11 overall and 5-5 in Region 1-AAAAA, the Trojans like Chavarria behind the plate — and they like his leadership.
The junior has established himself as one of the top defensive catchers in the area. He has allowed just three passed balls this season, possesses a cannon-style arm and hardly ever allows a stolen base.
His offense also is improving.
Lee County pitchers know they can throw just about anything and Chavarria’s skills will make them look good.
“He frames a lot of pitches for me,” junior right-hander Matt Hatcher said. “Some are really close calls, but he gets a lot (of strikes) for the team. He knows what we like to throw.”
Senior Jack Bell played a lot earlier this season at first base. When runners reached base, Chavarria often fired the ball in between pitches to Bell, hoping to catch runners leaning too far to the right and scoring a pickoff.
Bell said when a runner is on, Chavarra is almost a sure-bet to throw to first.
“A lot of times when he throws to first, you’re not expecting it,” Bell said. “You always have to be on your toes with him.”
As impressive as Chavarria is, Lee County coach Brandon Brock said the coaching staff is more impressed with the junior’s leadership ability. Brock said Chavarria is a smart player who often calls pitches when there are no runners on.
He’s humble and reserved, leading by example rather than being brash. But when he speaks, Brock said everyone usually listens.
“He can read my demeanor very well,” Brock said. “When things are not going very well, he picks up on it. I don’t have to say a word. They’ll follow Manny … he’s got everybody on this team’s attention.”
Chavarria has a work ethic that Brock said is second to none. Often during the summer, it isn’t uncommon for the junior to meet his coach at the field at 5:30 a.m.
“When I got here (last summer), he was waiting on me a lot of times,” Brock said. “You don’t see that from many kids.”
Chavarria has a different approach. Family is a big deal to him. So is his faith in a higher power. The junior uses baseball as his way to touch others.
He attends Sherwood Baptist Church, and he knows that baseball won’t last forever, which is why he is enjoying his time so much now. Chavarria enjoys the fellowship and unity the team brings. And he’s keen on making sure his life is a positive testimony to others, such as being a positive role model for his younger brother — freshman AJ — who currently plays on the ninth-grade team.
“It’s a blessing just playing as a family,” he said. “There is a much bigger picture than winning. The most important thing is helping others see what God has planned for them.”
And making sure he guards the plate.