LANSDOWNE >> Deandre DePass still seems astounded by the idea he could’ve never picked up a baseball bat.
“It’s a weird story,” he said Thursday.
Seventh-grade DePass was weighing options for middle school sports when he showed up to track practice one day. The next day, he assumed he’d be headed back to the track to work out. When he arrived and saw practice had been cancelled, he filled his afternoon by wandering over to the baseball diamond.
“Everyone told me to join the team, so I joined the team,” DePass said. “It was fun, and I fell in love with baseball.”
That love will be on display for the final time in his high school career Saturday when DePass represents Penn Wood on the Del Val squad in the 33rd annual Joseph J. Barrett Memorial Game at Neumann University at noon.
The outfielder is one of two recipients of the Barrett Game scholarships, DePass earning the honor for the Del Val squad alongside Springfield’s Andrew Todaro for the Central League team.
If one of the criteria is exuding the love of baseball in the way that the game’s namesake, a long-time umpire, did, then DePass fits the bill. Despite his late arrival to the sport, he’s taken to its intricacies, such that Penn Wood coach Justin Watson was surprised when he first worked with DePass as a junior to learn that he lacked the traditional youth upbringing in the sport.
“As a player, he was the heartbeat of our team all season,” the second-year head coach said. “He was our leadoff hitter, he was aggressive on the base paths, he rarely struck out. … He’s one of those kids who does whatever it takes to help his team win, and he has a good time doing it.”
DePass reflects on track as just something he gravitated toward because many around him did. It never seized his passions in the way baseball instantly did.
“Baseball is fun,” he said. “I just like playing as a team, that winning spirit and knowing you’re doing your part to help your team.”
DePass isn’t an imposing figure by any stretch, but his play is louder than his stature. He hit .429 for the Patriots this season and provided anchoring defense in center field, throwing out several runners with a deceptively strong arm. He also filled in on the mound on occasion, fulfilling the “whatever you need” mentality that Watson so prizes.
It helps that DePass entered the season with something to prove. Also a wrestler, DePass compiled a 17-8 record at 126 pounds, but a pulled back muscle robbed him of the chance to compete in the postseason.
That bit of personal unfinished business, combined with the underdog mentality that seems to come with the territory at Penn Wood, inspired him to strive even harder on the diamond. The Barrett Game, a direct comparison with the rest of Delco’s baseball elite, is an extension of that quest.
“It was all about getting respect for our team,” DePass said. “Our program isn’t respected like it should be. We work hard. Every year we get more wins than the year before. Nobody ever sees the hard work that we do, but the hard work that we put in, we know what it’s worth and we try to go out there every game and fight.”
DePass’ dedication reached into the classroom, where he was one of the baseball team’s GPA leaders, Watson said. DePass will major in business at Wilkes University next year with an eye toward a sports management career, either on the side of athletes or organizations. He feels the pull of baseball here, too, but also has the strategy to appreciate unfilled niches in other sports, like golf or hockey.
“He has the determination to be one of the best at whatever it is he tries,” Watson said. “… He just seems like one of those kids that’s definitely going to be successful in whatever he wants to do.”
DePass hopes to piece baseball into his future plans at Wilkes. But before that, he’s got one more game to play … and one more chance to get his message about his school out there.
“It’s an honor just to put Penn Wood on the map, playing with all those different schools out there,” he said. “People don’t really know anything about Penn Wood baseball, so just the fact that I’m out there, I’m going to do my best to let people know who Penn Wood is.”