7/10/04 – Written by Daily News Record
Climbing Halfway To The Stars Midway Into Season, Pitcher A San Fran Treat By AARON GRAY Daily News-Record He has been the No. 1 guy on the mound all season for the Turks, so when Bob Wease had to choose a starting pitcher for his Southern Division team in the Valley League All-Star Game, he didn’t have to look far. Nick Pereria, one of three Harrisonburg hurlers selected by VBL coaches for the annual game, has a perfect 4-0 record and will get the ball Sunday when the South meets the North in Waynesboro. "It’s been a privilege just to be here this summer," Pereria, a rising senior at the University of San Francisco, said this week. "Starting in the all-star game will always be something I will look back on." Looking back is easy. Luckily for Pereria, his future also has a roadmap – one that includes a detour to the Shenandoah Valley en route, he hopes, to the major leagues. "Harrisonburg has been a magical place for our guys," said USF coach Nino Giarratano, who sent Jesse Foppert, then a mediocre first baseman, to the Turks in 2000 to get a crash course in pitching. When Foppert returned for his senior year, he went 8-4 and led the Dons in innings pitched (98) and strikeouts (112) – numbers good enough to attract attention from that other team in San Francisco. "He pitched all summer in Harrisonburg, came back here and was a No. 1 draft pick for the Giants," Giarratano said. "It looks like Nick is on a similar path." After making 23 appearances and recording 101 strikeouts for the Giants in 2003, Foppert is recovering from September elbow surgery and is expected back for the second half of the season. For Pereria, the MLB trail has been blazed. Although the best collegians are usually plucked by pro teams after their junior seasons, Pereria still hopes to reach the major leagues. "It would be an honor to follow in Jesse’s footsteps," Pereria said. "He’s made it to the big leagues, so it gives me something to work towards." The San Jose, Calif., native’s work ethic has caught the attention of Wease, the Turks’ owner/manager, and pitching coach Scott Feldman. When Pereria isn’t raking off the pitcher’s mound, he has been known to hit the gym. "He constantly is working out," said Feldman. "A lot of guys come here for the summer and don’t push themselves. He’s doing the things he needs to do in between his starts to be successful. "In my four years in the Valley, he’s probably been the hardest worker I’ve seen." Added Wease: "I wish I had 25 players just like him." After the Turks lost Grant Hanson (second round) and Thomas Wilson (15th round) in the Major League Baseball draft, Pereria’s emergence was crucial for Harrisonburg. He’s helped the Turks amass an 18-10 record going into Friday night’s games, good enough for first place in the Southern Division standings. With his final collegiate season on the horizon, the 6-foot, 180-pound Pereria is determined to make one of the three starting spots in the USF rotation next spring. Last season, he started out as the closer and worked his way into a middle-relief role. Putting on 10 pounds of muscle this summer and adding a change-up to his pitching arsenal will help his cause. Primarily a "fastball away" pitcher, the right-handed Pereria has victimized VBL batters with first-pitch strikes in eight appearances this season. After he gets ahead, the slider – which Wease referred to as "his nastiest pitch" – comes next. This past week, Pereria picked up two wins and didn’t give up an earned run to earn his second Southern Conference Pitcher of the Week honor. In 35 2/3 innings pitched, he has struck out 42 batters and walked only six. "Of course, it’s summer baseball and everyone is lax, but I never try to lose focus," said Pereria, whose 1.26 ERA is third in the NCAA-sanctioned, wooden-bat VBL. "I pitch with the same mentality whether it’s a father-son game or a Valley League game – there’s no difference."