When COVID-19 forced the shutdown of the 2020 college baseball season, Coppin State catcher Mike Dorcean was struggling with the bat.
The Bellerose, N.Y., native was hitting .067 as a freshman, with just one hit in his first 15 collegiate at-bats.
It turns out that a break may have helped Dorcean in the long run. Last season, the 5-foot-11, 195-pound catcher hit .377/.524/.610 in 34 games as a sophomore and became the 16th player in program history to earn first-team All-MEAC honors.
“Being a sponge is a big thing that helped me and is helping me,” Dorcean said. “There’s no point in which I want to regress and that was the mentality switch I needed in order to become a better baseball player.”
Dorcean had a personal renaissance last season, but he’s not the only college catcher locally who has seen a great deal of success of late. Navy’s Christian Policelli hit a career-high and team-high .340 as a junior in 2021, earning first-team All-Patriot League honors for the first time.
Policelli and Dorcean have catapulted themselves into roles as team leaders heading into the 2022 season for two programs that are looking to regain momentum and eventually go on postseason runs.
The season gets underway Feb. 18 for Coppin State and Navy, with the Eagles taking on California Baptist in Riverside, Calif., and the Mids hosting UMBC. Coppin and Navy face one another in Annapolis Feb. 23.
“My biggest key to having another successful season is just going out there and trying to have fun with it as much as possible,” said Policelli, a native of Walkersville, Md. “Not trying to stress over performance or overdo everything, just letting it ride. It’s a game where you can go 3-for-10 and still be considered a great player.”
Navy has had substantial success in recent years, winning five straight Patriot League regular-season titles and reaching the finals of the Patriot League tournament in four of those five years. However, the Mids last won the league and reached the NCAA Tournament in 2016.
Coppin State hasn’t seen quite that level of success recently, though the Eagles finished with an above-.500 regular-season record for the first time in program history in 2019.
Having an established catcher who can build a rapport with the pitching staff and control the game as a leader defensively will play a massive role in both teams’ seasons.
“The catcher is a leadership position and I think that was a natural progression that Michael just captured,” Coppin State head coach Sherman Reed said. “Then when you play well on top of that, you automatically start getting the buy-in from your teammates, despite how young he was.”
Policelli has had the same effect on Navy, especially among the team’s pitchers. Of all the roles a catcher has, handling an entire pitching staff is the toughest of the bunch. Not only does a catcher need to remember well more than a dozen different pitching styles and arsenals, but he also needs to handle that many different personalities.
By talking with teammates and coaches, the 6-foot, 195-pound catcher has achieved that and found his niche within the program as one of the unquestionable leaders of the Midshipmen.
“He really is one of those guys that you gravitate toward,” Navy head coach Paul Kostacopoulos said. “He has a unique combination, something I don’t see all the time. He’s extremely well-liked, extremely respected and he’s admired. I think that’s a hard thing to accomplish, and he has all three and uses them well on the field.”
Confidence is another thing that helped Dorcean and Policelli drive to where they currently are in their college careers. The confidence for both players is undoubtedly present on the defensive side for both catchers.
However, both struggled out of the gate offensively in 2020 until the COVID shutdown, but the hard work that was put in during that extended waiting period between the end of the 2020 season and start of the 2021 season ultimately made the difference offensively.
It helps to create a trickle-down effect, not only through themselves personally, but through the rest of the team.
“During the COVID summer, I worked out with players who had made it, players who were in the minors,” Dorcean said. “I quickly realized that talent-wise, I’m as good as these guys. Coming back into the season in 2021, I had more confidence in myself, more confidence in my abilities and I think that was the biggest step I took personally.”
Policelli’s path toward leadership and confidence went hand in hand with his academics and experiences at the Naval Academy. A place like Navy, as he explained, holds students to a higher standard and forces them to grow up and mature into a leader more quickly.
The role models he’s looked up to at the Academy and the leadership courses he’s taken have led him to this point, now in his senior year, to be a leader at the ballpark.
“I’ve seen the leadership perspective from an athlete’s end and somebody from the military end, how they communicate and work together with their people, finding what works for them,” Policelli said. “I’ve been able to pick and choose what works best for myself and just ran with it.”
Dorcean and Policelli’s paths, while different, share a great number of similarities, including the same goal for the 2022 season — a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Coppin State and Navy are both picked in the top three of their respective preseason polls, so that could very much be in the cards.
Photo Credits: Tim Rice/Coppin State Athletics and Phil Hoffmann/Navy Athletics