When Petey Craska was younger, he tightly gripped the dimpled handle of a Wiffle Ball bat and focused on the incoming pitches from his older brother, Joey, who stood just 10 feet away.
Petey didn’t always make contact, but the hours spent trying to hit a whizzing, spinning, zipping Wiffle Ball at close range proved to be invaluable.
“We would throw as hard as we could at each other,” Petey Craska said. “I do think that helped me a lot to be honest with you, to see that kind of (velocity) that young, especially with a skinny barrel.”
Craska, who just completed his freshman year at Mars, is a lot more dangerous now gripping a bat that doesn’t have a dimpled handle and that isn’t canary yellow.
Craska, at just 15, is one of the most feared left-handed hitters in the country at his age.
Georgia Tech, one of the best college baseball programs in the country, took quick notice of Craska’s sweet left-handed swing.
Craska, who won’t graduate from Mars until 2023, committed to play for the Yellow Jackets on New Year’s Day.
“Once I met the coaching staff when I was down there in the fall, I knew that was the place I wanted to be,” Craska said. “If any other school that wasn’t up there in that caliber (had offered), I don’t know if I would be committed right now.”
The 6-foot, 220-pound Craska isn’t going to rest on his laurels, however.
He plays for the Canes Baseball 15-and-under national team as a corner infielder and has uncommon pop for his age.
And he has the numbers to prove it.
His exit velocity is in the 98th percentile, according to the analytics reported by Perfect Game. His barrel speed is in the 99th percentile.
“It really shows the power numbers I believe I can put up,” Craska said. “It’s all about hitting in the game, though. You can hit the ball as hard as you want, but you have to do it in a game.”
That hasn’t been much of a problem for Craska, who recently traveled to North Carolina with other Canes teams for a round-robin “Spring Training” tournament.
Craska swung the bat well, mashing two extra-base hits during the weekend.
Just getting back out onto the field, though, was a triumph for Craska.
He was supposed to be a fixture in the middle of the Mars lineup this spring, playing with his brother Joey, who was a senior pitcher.
But the coronavirus pandemic had other plans, canceling the season and leaving Petey Craska longing for a live game again.
“It felt amazing just to be able to run onto the field,” Craska said. “I was so excited on the drive down to North Carolina. I couldn’t believe it after so many months — I haven’t played since the fall.”
Baseball has been all Craska has thought about since he can remember.
Having two older brothers, Frank and Joey, who have been stars in their own right on the diamond, certainly helped fan Petey’s fire for the game.
“It’s been pretty much every day since I was walking,” Craska said. “I go and hit every day. My dad (Frank Craska Sr.) throws me (batting practice) and I get tee work in every day. Facing live pitching, especially during this time, facing Joey and Frank in live at-bats really helped.”
While his older brothers gravitated toward pitching, Petey Craska always felt more comfortable with a bat in his hands.
A right-handed thrower, Craska did pitch some a few years ago, but quickly realized throwing the ball wasn’t going to get him where he wanted to go.
Hitting it a long way, would, however.
“I pretty much knew hitting was where I was going to succeed,” he said.
Last year, Craska played for Team All-American Baseball in Pittsburgh.
“They put me in the right place to be able to succeed and get me where I am right now,” Craska said.
And where he is right now is one of the best for his age.
Craska will also play this summer in the Youngstown Class B league for the Astro Falcons. Joey Craska is also on that team.
Petey is playing up on the 18-year-old team.
“It’s all about seeing the best arms I can see,” Petey Craska said. “That’s what it’s all about. Getting better every day.”