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Belch’s comfort zone is behind the plate

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Josh Belch’s favorite player is Yadier Molina, the all-star catcher for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Considered the top receiver in major league baseball, Molina is known for his strong arm, the way he controls the game and the pitching staff from behind the plate, and his ability to hit in the clutch.

Belch may be just a senior in high school, but he already possesses some of those same traits as Molina. That has led the Watertown High School backstop to a Division I baseball scholarship at New Mexico State and, perhaps, someday a chance to follow in his idol’s footsteps.

“That would be a dream come true,’’ Belch said. “But I know there is still a lot of hard work ahead of me just to succeed at the college level.’’

Like most catchers, Belch loves to be in control on the diamond. He enjoys taking charge of the game, whether it is calling pitches, setting the defensive alignment, or just making sure everybody is in the right frame of mind.

Cyclone coach Matt Covey considers Belch, a solid 6-foot, 205-pounder, his eyes and ears on the field. He’s almost like another coach, assuming the leadership mantle of a young team that is off to a 7-0 Frontier League start.

“Josh is a student of the game,’’ Covey said. “He understands the little things that go into winning, we give him a lot of responsibility.’’

Covey trusts Belch to the extent that he allows him to call most of the pitches during a game. That’s unusual in this day and age when almost every pitch is called from the sidelines.

“Coach will give me instructions on certain key pitches, but for the most part, I make the calls,’’ Belch said. “And I think our pitches trust that I’ll make the right call.’’

Belch’s defensive abilities include excellent technique. He’s a master at blocking balls in the dirt. Belch also possesses a strong, accurate arm, which helped him throw out 18 of 24 would-be base stealers last season and makes opposing coaches think twice about trying to steal.

A Times first-team All-North performer last season, Belch said, “It’s satisfying knowing that everybody else is depending on you to make the right calls and manage the game correctly. And I’m always learning.’’

Belch started out as a pitcher on his dad, Gary’s, youth teams. But when dad couldn’t find anybody to catch when Josh wasn’t pitching, he put his son behind the plate.

“You’re involved in the game on every pitch, and that’s the part I love,’’ Belch said. “Some games, outfielders don’t have a ball hit to them and that’s pretty boring.’’

Belch has become one of the league’s top hitters through countless hours of hard work in the batting cage in his garage, and through extended work during the summer on a couple of different traveling teams.

“Hitting is always an ongoing process,’’ Belch said. “You can always improve and find something that works better in your swing.’’

As a sophomore, Belch batted .464 with 22 RBIs.

Last season, he improved to .492, leading WHS in batting, with nine doubles, two triples, a home run, 24 RBIs and 30 runs scored. He made sixth team all-state in Class AA.

But, Belch was not satisfied. He almost lived in the weight room this past fall, when he took off from football, and over the winter in preparation for his final high school season.

“I feel stronger and I’m hitting the ball harder consistently this season,’’ Belch said. “I’ve been working on sitting back and trying to drive the ball to the opposite field and not drift off the ball.’’

This season, Belch is again performing at a high level. He is batting .472 (17-for-36) with 18 runs scored, three doubles, a home run and 12 RBIs. He has only struck out four times and has a .731 on-base percentage.

Said Covey: “There is a different sound when Josh makes contact than most of the other players. He hardly ever has a bad at bat because he doesn’t swing at bad pitches, and he knows the strike zone so well.’’

As far as his leadership role, Belch said it’s his time. “I’m one of the old guys now. It’s my job to keep everybody’s spirits up when they are going badly. Or to remind them not to get too high when things are going well.’’

Covey said the younger players “couldn’t have a better role model than Josh. He plays the game the way it is supposed to be played and gives 110 percent all the time.’’

Belch said he would like nothing better than to close his high school career by helping WHS win another Frontier League “A’’ Division title and possibly making a run in the sectionals.





The Belch file

School: Watertown High School

Year, age: Sr., 17

Position: Catcher

Height, weight: 6-foot, 205 pounds

Position: Catcher

Family: Mother, Sue; Father, Gary; Brother, A.J.; Sister, Megan.

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