By Ed Morrone
Although it’s one of the oldest sports clichés in the book, family is everything to the Penn Charter baseball team, on and off the field.
Take three of the team’s best players heading into 2020 for example. First, there’s junior outfielder/pitcher Jake Siani, whose two older brothers, Mike and Sammy, have been drafted by Major League Baseball teams the last two years — Mike to the Cincinnati Reds in the fourth round in 2018, Sammy to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first round last year. As the youngest of the bunch, Jake lives with residual comparisons all the time, both a gift and a curse for a young man forging his own path.
Then you have senior first baseman Jameson Ford, a three-sport athlete at PC who also happens to be the son of Head of School Darryl Ford. Darryl is a beloved figure in the community, and his son’s biggest champion, creating a large shadow for Jameson to live in, something he has combatted with his love of baseball, basketball and football.
Finally, you have Vincent Fattore, already the team’s best hitter heading into his sophomore season. Fattore has dealt with family turmoil off the field, as his mother, Lisa, underwent a mastectomy last summer after beating breast cancer for the second time. As a result, Fattore’s Penn Charter baseball family has served as refuge during a personally trying time. (According to Fattore, Lisa is doing great, and is back into her normal routine with her health again on the rise.)
Family is what drives this team and what will motivate them into hopefully winning the program’s first league title since 2017 after finishing third a season ago. For all three of these young men, those who have come before have shaped them into the people they are becoming, with baseball serving as the catalyst along their respective journeys.
“It’s always been a thing for me, so I’d consider it more motivation than a burden,” Siani said of the comparisons to his brothers now playing professionally at 19 and 20 years old. “Seeing them become so successful makes me want to do the same. They have always guided and supported me, and they don’t want me to think too much about pressure that’s there because of them. Yeah, I’m related to them, but they’ve encouraged me to find my own identity.”
There are applicable comparisons to make: like his brothers, Jake is a lefty outfielder, and like Mike especially, he’s a contact hitter who excels at setting the table atop the lineup by getting on base. But Siani, who has his college decision down to Villanova and Lehigh, according to head coach Justin Hanley, excels in an area that his brothers did not: on the pitching mound. Hanley said Siani, who hails from Glenside, should be one of the team’s top pitchers, and the success of that unit will likely determine whether or not the Quakers will be contenders for a league crown.
“Jake’s been answering those questions his whole life, but he’s blazed his own trail,” Hanley said. “Mike was a quiet leader and Sammy was even more quiet, and let his bat do the talking, but Jake has the personality to match. I’m really proud of him, and the sky’s the limit. He’s a fantastic kid.”
As for Ford, he has been the team’s starter at first base the last two seasons and has earned that spot on merit, not because he’s the head of school’s son. Not only has Ford grown into a dependable middle-of-the-order hitter and an ace defender at first base, but has taken immense strides as a leader, a surprise to nobody who has ever spent 30 seconds talking to his father.
“I’ve been here since kindergarten, and it was harder in lower and middle school,” Ford said. “But in high school, I became more myself. I’m not just Dr. Ford’s son; I’m Jameson. This school has helped me become who I am and want to be. I’ve been developed into my own person who wants to be the best me I can; I don’t have to live in my dad’s shadow.”
Ford, a Philadelphia native, leads the Penn Charter diversity council, so even if he has forged his own path, he has absorbed natural leadership qualities from his father, which will only benefit the baseball program in his final season. Hanley said Ford is still deciding on college, with Widener and Ursinus both being contenders for his services.
“He has that first base job because he won it, not because of who his father is,” Hanley said. “He doesn’t want special treatment. Jameson is the type of kid that when he talks, guys listen.”
Finally, there’s Fattore, the outfielder who became the team’s best hitter as a freshman, not too shabby considering last year’s team had a player taken 37th overall in the MLB Draft. The fact that he’s gotten off to such a hot start while dealing with such personal adversity is a remarkable feat, and that’s just it: Fattore uses baseball as a safe haven. His mother loves to watch him play and wanted him to do what he loves instead of worrying about her, and so that’s exactly what he did.
“She’s a strong woman, and she wanted me to stay strong too,” Fattore said. “It motivated me a lot to play for her. She loves seeing me play and was still there a lot. She’s doing really well now and is back to her old ways.”
At one point during the conversation, Fattore lifted his baseball pants to reveal pink socks, which he wears to every practice and game in support of Lisa. As a sophomore, the ceiling is lofty for a kid Hanley referred to as a five-tool player.
“The ball just sounds different coming off his bat,” Hanley said. “He’s gone through some tough stuff as a teenager, but he didn’t bottle things up. Vin would text me to hit some balls, and knowing what he was going through, he’d take his aggression and emotion out on some baseballs. It’s kept him grounded through some tough times.”
Led by this talented and mature trio, the Quakers are bullish about their chances to compete for an Inter-Ac crown in 2020, even if the league can be a buzzsaw (SCH Academy took the title in 2019). Other players Hanley singled out were Gavin Zavorski, a four-year starter at catcher; Aaron Maione, a football star who Hanley called a Swiss Army Knife on the diamond; and junior Dean Bergmann at third base, who, like Siani, is a legacy player in the PC program. The Quakers have hitters and are strong defensively; if the team pitches as well as Hanley hopes, then as the coach often says, “the sky is the limit.”
“We left a lot of meat on the bone last year, losing two or three games we were leading going into the final at bat,” Hanley said. “It’s going to be a fight to finish out close games. We’ll see how we respond, but guys are hungry and let last year sting this offseason. It’s only the first week of practice, but I love the energy the kids are bringing out of the gate. The focus level is through the roof, and I let them know if we keep our foot on the gas, then we’re going to carry that into the season.”