Josh Lapiana’s baseball career has had more twists and turns than a Western Pennsylvania country road.
A lefthanded pitcher and a former standout at Chartiers Valley High School, Lapiana is in his rookie season with the Wild Things. Just how he reached this point speaks volumes about Lapiana’s dedication to the sport.
While at Chartiers Valley, where he helped the Colts to a pair of WPIAL playoff appearances, Lapiana was recruited by only three Division I college baseball programs. One of the three, however, dropped the sport during the recruiting process and the head coach at another school that was recruiting Lapiana left for new job.
Lapiana eventually settled on the University of Akron and played there for one year before the Zips’ program also was eliminated in budget cuts.
“That happened in late July, so I had about a month to find someplace to play. It was getting late,” Lapiana recalled.
With his options dwindling, Lapiana found a place to play. It was in about the last place you would associate with baseball and springtime. He played his final three college seasons, not in a sunny and warm baseball-crazy town in the southeast, but rather for Utah, in chilly Salt Lake City.
“About all I knew about Utah before I went there was that it once played Pitt in the Fiesta Bowl,” Lapiana said. “I flew out to Salt Lake City and fell in love with the place.
“I grew up skiing. I loved the mountains in Utah, so I was disappointed when I told that there is no skiing if you’re on scholarship.”
So Lapiana kept the ski equipment packed away and devoted himself to baseball. At Utah, he developed into one of the top starting pitchers in the Pac-12 Conference and gained a reputation for pitching his best against ranked teams. He won nine games in three years and helped the Utes win their first Pac-12 tournament championship.
“I gave up one run in seven innings against Stanford, when it ranked No. 1 in the country,” Lapiana recalled. “I gave up one run and beat Arizona when it was in the top 10. And in 23 innings against Oregon, I gave up only two runs.”
Those numbers, in a talent-rich conference, are impressive but they weren’t enough to get Lapiana drafted. He returned to Pennsylvania, pitched last year in a semi-pro league based in McKeesport, then played winter ball in Australia.
“I was a two-way player in Australia. I pitched and played first base, then outfield and designated hitter, just about anywhere you can put a lefty,” Lapiana said. “I even finished fifth in the MVP voting.”
Lapiana signed with the Wild Things this year but was released during spring training in May. His career was again was at a crossroad.
With his team’s pitching staff off to a rocky start this season, Washington manager Gregg Langbehn recalled Lapiana’s strike-throwing ability in spring training and the decision was made to bring him back for another try.
Lapiana has an 0-1 record and 6.00 ERA in five outings. The inflated ERA is the result of one rocky emergency start at the Gateway Grizzlies’ hitter-friendly ballpark. But one month after rejoining the team, Lapiana is firmly entrenched in the Wild Things’ bullpen.
Though he did not pitch in the series against the Evansville Otters that ended Thursday night, Lapiana has pitched twice since making his only start of the year June 1. In those two relief outings – at home against Florence and at Southern Illinois – Lapiana threw 4⅓ shutout innings in each contest, allowing only five hits and one walk.
“His last two outings went great,” Langbehn said. “What I like is he’s not afraid to pitch to contact. Situations don’t get too big for him.
“Josh is still learning about the league and he’s learning about himself, too. We gave him a start, which is not something we wanted to do at the time, but we needed a starter. The bullpen is not really his role, but he can eat a lot of innings when needed.”
Langbehn said the key for Lapiana will be developing his curveball.
“What we’d like to see Josh do is focus on his breaking pitches. He has fastball command,” Langbehn said. “He needs to sharpen and get a little more depth out of breaking ball.”