Phil Madonna still remembers his favorite Christmas present from 10 years ago.
It changed his life.
“I was 6 and getting ready for T-Ball,” Madonna said. “I got a chest protector and mask for Christmas that year.
“At that point, I knew I was destined to be a catcher.”
And he’s become a pretty good one.
Now a junior on the Vincentian Academy baseball team, the Mars resident has been a catcher throughout his baseball life. He is a third-year starter for the Royals and has a prep career batting average around .500.
“The kid is the real deal,” Vincentian coach Jay Fennell said. “Not only can he hit, but he’s so fundamentally sound behind the plate. He blocks up everything and he’s got a strong, accurate arm.
“There’s no doubt Phil is looking at a Division I baseball career behind the plate.”
Madonna is already being scouted closely by Kent State, Bucknell and Georgetown. He is undecided about his collegiate future.
But he knows he’s going to play somewhere.
“I’ll ride out my life playing baseball as long as I can,” Madonna said. “No one’s ever going to tell me that I can’t do it. I want to leave this game on my terms.”
He stands only 5-foot-8 and weighs 160 pounds, but Madonna has been a tough out at the plate for a long time. He hit .500 as a freshman at Vincentian and batted .448 last year.
Through nine games this year, he was hitting .550 (11 for 20) to go with five walks and getting hit by a pitch twice. That computes to a .666 on-base percentage.
Madonna’s idol growing up was Pirate catcher Jason Kendall, who spent 15 years in the major leagues and ranks among the top five all-time in number of games played behind the plate.
“He was as tough as they come and was out there playing every day,” Madonna said. “That’s the way I want to be.”
Between his high school and summer teams last year, Madonna caught more than 90 games.
“I love being in the middle of things and as a catcher, you’re involved in the mental and physical side of the game with every pitch,” Madonna said. “What I love about baseball is anyone can excel at it.
“Whether you’re 5-foot-6 or 6-foot-4 ... If you can play, you can play.”
Madonna’s knowledge of baseball is as good as his ability to play it.
“He’s one of the smartest players I’ve ever been around,” Fennell said. “I let him call the pitches every game because he’s so good at it.
“Through our first seven games, no one even tried to steal a base against him. He’s that good.”
Madonna hits second in the Vincentian batting order and is comfortable in that spot.
“I matured as a hitter once I learned to hit balls up the middle and the other way,” Madonna said. “There are a lot of hits over there.”
Fennell said Madonna bats second “because he handles the bat so well.”
While Madonna’s game is solid on the field, he knows he has work to do off the field.
“I have to get physically stronger,” he said. “If I’m going to continue to catch this many games every spring and summer, I have to make sure my body can take the toll.
“And I plan on doing it.”