Serra Catholic’s Mark Black named Trib HSSN Baseball Player of the Year
By: Chris Harlan
Sunday, June 23, 2019 | 3:38 AM
The Youghiogheny runs beyond the outfield fence at Boston Field in McKeesport, the home for Serra Catholic baseball.
If opponents agree to pitch to him, Eagles star Mark Black might one day launch a home run into the river. He’s already had a few come close, according to folks in the crowd.
“Coach (Brian) Dzurenda said that I’ve had a few that one-hopped into the river,” said Black, who hit 14 home runs this season. They landed “10 or 15 feet from the river.”
The junior catcher batted .521 with 41 RBIs and 33 runs scored while leading his team to the WPIAL Class 2A finals and an appearance in the state championship. However, Black’s reputation for clobbering baseballs saw him walked 18 times combined in nine WPIAL and PIAA playoff games.
Even so, Black’s remarkable season makes him the 2019 TribLive HSSN Baseball Player of the Year.
The power-hitting backstop doesn’t fit the slow-footed stereotype for catchers. In fact, Black practices yoga and his coach says he’s the fastest player on the roster.
When playoff opponents stopped pitching to him, Dzurenda made Black the team’s leadoff hitter, figuring coaches wouldn’t intentionally walk him to start the game. In the state semifinals, Seton LaSalle challenged him and Black homered on the first pitch.
Q: What’s your best memory from this season?
A: I’ll probably remember the state (championship) game for awhile. It stunk that we didn’t get the win but it was a great experience playing at Medlar Field with that group of guys.
Q: Was there a favorite home run among your 14 this season?
A: The one to lead off the game against Seton LaSalle in the state semis was definitely a big one. It was a big game and that was the first pitch of the game.
Q: Your athleticism would let you play multiple positions. How did you become a catcher?
A: I think it was when I was seven or eight. I saw some of the older kids doing it and I was intrigued.
Q: What do you like about that position?
A: The leadership aspect. You’ve got to be vocal and be the best leader you can. But also you’re involved in every play. There’s no time off. You’re always going.
Q: How did you get started with yoga and how does it help you as a baseball player?
A: I was talking to the head coach of my summer program (freshman year) and he said I needed to get more flexible. Especially as a catcher, you’re squatting down for so long that your hips and hamstrings start to get tight. It impacts you everywhere. You get slower, you get weaker. Since I started yoga I’ve gotten faster, stronger and definitely less injuries. My body feels better pretty much all the time now compared to before. My hips, my legs, they’d all be aching because they were so tight.
Q: Is there a major league catcher that you watch?
A: Sometimes Willson Contreras of the Cubs, just watching how athletic he is.
Q: Did you pay attention to the MLB draft? If so, did you think about how your name could be called next summer?
A: I watched the first few rounds and I saw the updates on Twitter. I definitely want to try and be one of those guys. I have to work at it. There are still improvements to make. But I definitely want to hear my name called.
Q: You committed to St. John’s in August 2017. What did you like about that school?
A: I like the atmosphere of all those northeastern guys. They’re all tough, gritty, blue-collar players. And I like the coaching staff a lot, they have the same mentality.
Q: As your profile continues to rise, might other schools try to lure you away?
A: I definitely have people talk to me, but that’s not something that I’d want to do. I made my commitment and I really do like St. John’s, so that’s definitely something I want to stick to.
Q: Will we see a home run land in the river next season?
A: I hope so. Get bigger and stronger this winter, and we’ll see what happens.
Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .