Bill Ballew 2015-11-16 03:49:25
Baseball has long been a family affair, with more than 350 sets of brothers playing at the major league level since the early 1880s. The list begins with the likes of the brothers Aaron (Hank and Tommie), Alomar (Roberto and Sandy, Jr.) and Alou (Felipe, Matty and Jesus), continues with the likes of the Niekros (Phil and Joe) and Perrys (Gaylord and Jim), and ends with the brothers Young (Delmon and Dmitri), Yount (Robin and Larry) and Zimmerman (Jeffand Jordan). Although the attention may not be as bright as what is shined on their major league brethren, the college ranks have had their share of brother tandems. In 2015, nowhere did two siblings contribute more to a single team than at Alabama State University, where P.J. and Chris Biocic helped guide the Hornets to an Eastern Division championship in the Southwestern Athletic Conference with an 18-6 record and an overall mark of 31-19. Playing their first seasons with the Hornets after transferring from Bethune-Cookman University, the Biocics attained some notable individual success as well. Both received All-SWAC firstteam honors. P.J., a redshirt senior, was among the 47 players across the nation named to the Brooks Wallace Shortstop of the Year Award watch list, while Chris, a redshirt sophomore, was one of 20 semi-finalists for the Johnny Bench Award as the top catcher at the Division I level. Chris also was selected to the ABCA/Rawlings South Central All-Region team at the end of the campaign. “Being voted to the all-region team by the ABCA and winning firstteam all-conference recognition was definitely a pretty big moment in my life because both my brother and I won first-team all-conference,” Chris said. “That was a pretty special moment to share with him. It was also special to see him have such a great season in his final year and to be able to share that with him.” Putting themselves in position to have that kind of season did not come without some difficulties. Both players endured injuries that shelved them for extended periods. They also found themselves in a situation where they felt transferring colleges represented the best opportunity to develop as young men and set the stage for future success. In the end their perseverance paid offhandsomely as Chris enters his redshirt junior season with the Hornets and P.J. makes the transition as a graduate assistant coach after earning his bachelor’s degree in psychology. The fact that both Biocic boys remain involved in the game is not a surprise to anyone who knows the tight-knit family. Their father, Paul Biocic, grew up playing baseball at St. Joseph High School in Westchester, Illinois, as well as in college at North Park University in Chicago, before making the move to softball, which he continues to play to this day. Growing up, P.J. and Chris spent countless weekends traveling with their mom, Kerri, to watch Paul play in softball tournaments throughout the state. The boys naturally gravitated to the bat-and-ball sports, which both admit it was love at first sight. “I’ve been playing for as long as I can remember,” Chris said. “My dad played baseball in college as well and I grew up watching him play. I always looked up to him and he always talked about how much he loved baseball. He started coaching me, and while I won’t say I was always good at it, he definitely coached me into what I’ve become.” P.J. and Chris were born in Miami before the family moved a couple hours north to Merritt Island following the devastation of Hurricane Andrew. As the older brother, P.J. established the Biocic name at Merritt Island High School by helping the Mustangs become one of the top 4A programs in Florida. Seeing most of his time at second base, P.J. garnered All-Space Coast and Cape Coast Conference honors while earning a reputation as one of the better prep infielders in the state. “I was first-team all-conference as a sophomore and senior and our high school won three out of four district titles while I was there,” P.J. said. “My senior year we were ranked in the top two in 4A and we only had three losses on the year, going 24-3. But in the regional semifinals we faced a pitcher who was throwing a bunch of junk and we couldn’t hit him.” After sorting through a variety of offers to play at the next level, P.J. decided to attend Bethune-Cookman, which is located in Daytona Beach, about an hour north of Merritt Island. As a freshman in 2011 he started 28 games at second base and designated hitter and responded with a .284 batting average, including eight multi-hit games, with 20 runs scored and 20 RBIs. His best outing came against Florida A&M on March 26 when P.J. had three hits and drove in three runs. He also reached base in 24 straight outings at one stretch, making him one of the most productive members of the Wildcats. “I went to Bethune-Cookman because it was close to home and it was a Division I program,” P.J. said. “We were playing good talent across the board. My dad also got to help me, so I thought it was a good decision to go there.” His situation with the Wildcats took a turn for the worse when P.J. tore his ACL in preseason practice and wound up having to sit out the 2012 season due to the injury. He returned to action as a redshirt sophomore in 2013 but struggled to regain any consistency. In 35 games, including 30 starts, P.J. batted at a .186 clip with two doubles, a home run and 10 RBIs. On a more positive note, P.J. was joined on the Wildcats roster in 2013 by his brother, Chris, who put together a solid freshman campaign at Bethune-Cookman. Chris started 25 of his 29 appearances and ranked third on the team with a .286 batting average while adding three doubles, three triples and 15 RBIs. He also threw out 12 of 23 runners attempting to steal for an incredible caught-stealing rate of .657. As close as the brothers are, they are different in many ways, particularly in size. While P.J. is 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, Chris is 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds. Their games also differ, which became evident as soon as they could throw and hit a baseball. Whereas P.J. had all of the traits a coach should want in a sure-handed infielder, Chris had trouble with one of the more basic skills required of those playing on the dirt. “I started catching when I was seven,” Chris said with a laugh. “I wasn’t very good at fielding ground balls. There’s definitely a mentality to playing behind the plate. Fortunately catching was something I was naturally good at. I could always catch and throw, but fielding a ground ball was never a viable option for me. I worked at catching for about two years and then after that everything seemed to come naturally.” While baseball was always at the forefront of activities in the Biocic household, Chris remembers when he started to take the sport seriously in the hope of playing the game beyond the high school level. “Around the age of 12 my dad sat me down because I was bummed about not playing on the little field any more,” Chris said. “I always wanted to make it to Williamsport and play on television (in the Little League World Series) but my dad said it would be better for me to play on the big field in preparation for playing in high school. He said, ‘If you’re really serious about playing baseball in college, it’s definitely an option for you.’ So since I was about 12, playing college baseball was my goal.” Despite their age difference, Chris and P.J. played on many of the same teams, including their summer club, the Cape Coast Canes. They were also teammates at Merritt High in 2010 when the Mustangs were one of the top 4A teams in Florida. In his four seasons under head coach Tony Haddock, Chris earned all-conference honors on two occasions in addition to playing in multiple WWBA national championships for the 17u Orlando Scorpions. Chris also decided to follow in his brother’s footsteps by attending Bethune-Cookman. His reasons for selecting the Wildcats mirrored those of P.J., with the added bonus of getting to play alongside his sibling once again. Yet after his lone season in Daytona Beach, Chris and P.J. felt a change in scenery was necessary and decided to transfer to Alabama State. “It was probably the best decision we could have made for our careers playing-wise,” Chris said. “It’s definitely a big change going from Daytona Beach to Montgomery, Alabama; that was probably the hardest adjustment. From a baseball standpoint, it’s definitely better for me here. I have more time to focus on what I need to focus on. The coaching staff really works hand in hand with me. They like to sit down one-on-one and have discussions and tell me what I need to work on and where I can improve my game. That’s been a huge help. The coaching staff here has really worked well with our games and the way we play.” P.J. agrees, adding, “Coming to Alabama State was the best move I could have made because I became so much more comfortable with the coaches here than the previous ones. I felt at home and my brother came as well. It turned out to be a very good decision since we both had successful seasons last year.” By transferring from one Division I program to another, both players had to sit out the 2014 campaign. The situation was particularly challenging for Chris, who underwent shoulder surgery in the spring due to the constant wear and tear that comes from catching. As difficult as that semester proved to be, Chris admits that stretch made him mentally tougher and helped him gain a better appreciation for the opportunity he is given every time he takes the field. “That was an experience I don’t want to go through again,” Chris said. “It made me realize how much the game of baseball means to me. Not being able to play and just watching the games, it hit me kind of hard. But it worked out great because the staff really took care of me here. They pushed me to be better. That year sitting out and having surgery was a little tougher than I thought it would be. But they made sure to stay on top of me and help me realize what’s important in my life. Every day after the surgery I learned to not take anything for granted. It made me realize that you never know when it’s going to end. So I went out and played with a smile on my face.” P.J. and Chris both entered the 2015 season feeling they had something to prove on the field. For P.J., he knew it was his final year of college baseball and wanted nothing more than to go out on the highest of notes. He made a seamless move to shortstop to solidify the Hornets’ infield defense and helped set the table at the top of the team’s batting order. P.J. put together a phenomenal 42-game on-base streak and batted .343 with 53 runs scored, six doubles, a triple, two home runs and 41 RBIs. He also led the nation by getting hit by 27 pitches and was among the Division I leaders with a .496 on base percentage, aided by 31 walks versus only 19 strikeouts. “It was an awesome feeling,” P.J. said of his senior season. “I wish we could have won our conference tournament, but other than that it was a great team. I really enjoyed playing with these guys. I accomplished a lot of achievements that had been goals of mine, like having almost a .500 on-base percentage, being recognized as one of the top shortstops in the nation with the Brooks Wallace Award and being named first-team all conference. I couldn’t ask for more than that. Still, the ultimate goal was to win the SWAC championship and we didn’t achieve that, which was bittersweet.” Chris also emerged as a starter with the Hornets and posted a .995 fielding percentage behind the plate. Named the SWAC Player of the Week on March 3, he proceeded to bat .357 with 31 runs, 11 doubles, four triples, a home run and 44 RBIs. Much like his brother, Chris’ on-base percentage was an impressive .428, and he had a 20-game on-base streak during the campaign. “Last season made all of the struggles I had gone through feel like nothing. It was very special because not many people can say they played Division I baseball with their brother on the same team and both were able to succeed and play well,” Chris said. “It’s also good to have another support in your system. We played together for a very long time and it was great to have someone there to notice that your swing is a little long or you’re overswinging.” Some of that advice now comes in a different manner leading up to the 2016 season. While working on his masters degree in mental health and clinic counseling, P.J. is helping coach the Hornets’ infielders while assisting in other ways as well. His goal is to become a full-time coach in the college ranks and is grateful for the opportunity Alabama State head coach Mervyl Melendez is providing him. “So far it’s been very enjoyable,” P.J. said. “It’s a different aspect of baseball that I’m getting myself into now. I’m so used to playing and practicing baseball every day as opposed to not playing while trying to help the guys out this year. I really haven’t felt that urge to play because my goal is to be a college coach so I’m putting in the time now. The transition has been very smooth.” Chris admits that while the situation is a little different, he is thrilled to see P.J. receive an opportunity he wants while remaining a part of the Alabama State team. “I like it until he tells me to run,” Chris said with a grin. “That gets a little tough and he does it on purpose sometimes. We still have a great relationship, even though he still gives me a hard time. But that’s what brothers are for.” While P.J.’s goals are to help the Hornets improve as he discovers the tools of the coaching trade, Chris has two years of playing eligibility remaining at Alabama State. His primary focus for 2016 is to help the team win the SWAC championship and advance to the NCAA Tournament. He’d also like to post a .400 batting average and win the Johnny Bench Award after placing among the semifinalists last year. And while baseball remains an important facet of his life, Chris also realizes the bigger picture of what he is trying to accomplish with the help of the Hornet coaching staff. “Things are going extremely well, and our coaches do a great job of supporting all of the kids in the program,” Chris said. “They let every single player know what they need to work on and how they can better themselves. They basically try to make the players better men for the future instead of focusing solely on baseball. To me, that’s really important.” P.J. echoes those same sentiments while admitting that baseball will always be a bond he has with his brother and parents. After all, he loves the sport too much to pursue other things that are not his passion. “Chris and I always depend on each other a lot during the year because as players we were always competing against each other as well and always trying to help each other out,” P.J. said. “In every situation during the game we’re always talking about what we should be looking for. We grew up with our dad always talking baseball to us, and our conversations are just an extension of that. We always played with one another, so it couldn’t have been done any other way. Baseball has always been a huge part of my life and I hope that will continue to be the case for the rest of my life.”
Published by Baseball Magazine. View All Articles.
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