By Ashton Pollard
A couple of trash cans. A single batting cage. A canceled season.
It was not exactly the junior spring Alex Calarco imagined. But at least he didn’t have to worry about recruiting. Calarco, a senior catcher at New Trier High School, has been committed to Northwestern since his sophomore year.
“Nothing really compared to the academics,” Calarco said. “The coaching staff. The brand-new hitting facility. Everything is on the lake. It’s awesome.”
Baseball has always been a core part of who Calarco is. His father John was a college baseball player and went on to play in the minors for the Salt Lake City Trappers in the early 1990s. His brother Anthony, who Calarco calls his “best friend,” is a rising senior on the Northwestern baseball team. His parents have missed fewer than 10 of his baseball games in his life and they have recorded almost every at bat.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, like many high school, college and professional athletes, Calarco had to find a way to stay in shape amidst the season cancellation and gym closures. Calarco, his brother and a neighbor got creative.
“We literally took two garbage cans, put them six feet apart and put a bar in the middle,” Calarco said. “We didn’t have an actual rack. A couple of times the trash cans literally bent in half because we had some pretty big weights on there.”
Luckily, there was one piece of real equipment that remained usable. Numerous other towns in the area removed their batting cages, but New Trier left theirs untouched. The family went almost every day.
Once news got out that the cage was available, players in the area flocked to Duke Childs Field.
“Some of the kids in the neighborhood and some of Anthony’s teammates started to figure out that this was really the only cage around that’s built up and functioning,” said Calarco’s dad. “We had a nice group.”
Once summer arrived last year, some sports returned and various regulations were loosened, Calarco was able to get back out on the field with his travel team, the White Sox Elite.
“At least they were playing,” said Calarco’s mom, Sheri. “They were lucky to play, and they knew at any point it could stop, so it literally made each game. Nothing was taken for granted.”
Calarco played in the fall for the Wilmette Waves, an offseason team made up of New Trier players and affiliated with Connie Mack Baseball, and then he joined a travel team through the Chicago Scout Association, which took him to play seven games in Florida in October. Things were about as close to normal as possible.
“That was some of the most fun baseball I’ve ever played,” Calarco said.
Now, Calarco, who was the first freshman to ever make the New Trier varsity team, is in the middle of his final season of high school baseball. With the pandemic coming to an end, he can turn his focus toward the next steps: Northwestern and goals to play Major League Baseball.
So far, Calarco has had an impressive season. He has six home runs and is batting .447 after 29 games. He is often pitched around, resulting in 30 walks on the season. His on-base percentage is .607.
Calarco has had interest from 22 major league ball clubs, and scouts are constantly monitoring his progress.
“If you look at him in uniform, you say that’s what a Major League Baseball player looks like size-wise,” said New Trier hitting coach Pete Drevline. “You look at his individual abilities on a baseball field and you see a guy who is a prospect for the major leagues.”
Ashton Pollard is a sports reporter at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @ashtonpollard7.