Bo Wilkinson has always wanted to be a catcher. Heck, he’s always been a catcher — at least for the last 10 years. But now, as a member of the Post 28 American Legion baseball team, Wilkinson is ready to take his game to another level.
“I wanted to move up a league because I saw how it helped Trevor (Abbott) and knew that it would be a great learning experience getting to play behind D.J. (Clark),” Wilkinson explained.
“The experience of pitching against more experienced guys built his confidence,” Clark, Post 28’s starting catcher, said of Abbott’s emergence as a top-flight pitcher. “Now he knows he can compete with the best.”
Abbott pitched mainly as a relief pitcher for Post 28, earning a 5-0 record, and translated that into a 7-1 regular-season record for the Indian River High School baseball team as a sophomore.
This past spring season, a medial epicondylitis (elbow) injury, joint swelling and tendonitis kept Wilkinson from playing very much — if any — baseball at all. All Wilkinson could do was watch, learn and rest.
He played a bit of first base for the junior-varsity team before getting pulled to the varsity team for their final stretch, including the state tournament. He didn’t play, but he did do the things that good teammates do: warm up pitchers, catch balls for infield practice, and watch and learn.
For years, coaches have been salivating over Wilkinson’s natural talent and work ethic. He’s attended the Indian River baseball camps, participated in AAU travel ball, middle school ball and played Little League, where he and a number of current Indian River freshmen and sophomores represented their region in New Jersey on the way to Little League World Series. And rather than be the stud on a Little League team, he has chosen to play up a level with the Legion boys.
“Coaches have been looking forward for him to move up since he was in sixth grade,” Selbyville Middle School assistant coach Tim Clausen said. “And when the coaches above know who you are, it’s a very positive thing.”
Post 28’s starting catcher and current Del Tech player D.J. Clark noted that Wilkinson’s ability was easy to see even at an early age.
“I remember seeing him at a baseball camp at Indian River and he was easily the best player there,” Clark said. “From there, I kept an eye out for him.”
Clark, like Wilkinson, grew up idolizing players like Indian River’s former catcher, Justin Hoban, and remembers how helpful he was in helping him develop his own game.
“I idolized him a lot,” Clark admitted. “He had great arm strength, could really hit and he took the time to help me out.”
Like Wilkinson, Clark had to make the necessary adjustments to play baseball at the next level for the Del Tech Roadrunners.
“It can be a little intimidating because the competition is way up. But that makes you keep your focus, because if you lax up for a second you can miss something.
And with Wilkinson only a shout away at the Legion games, Clark can do more than just keep an eye on him.
“I’ve given him a few pointers,” Clark said.
In practice, Wilkinson like a sponge. He watches everything with a detailed eye and eagerly wants to emulate the correct motions.
“I like having him around,” Wilkinson said of Clark. “He is great at blocking the plate and is really quick out of the box on his throw downs.”
“Honestly, Bo’s the hardest worker I’ve ever trained,” said Wilkinson’s batting instructor Rick Donald. “You give him something to take home and he perfects it by the next session. The easiest way to say it is that he’s driven by perfection.”
Donald began instructing Wilkinson last year around the time his team was playing in the regional Little League tournament and since then the two have been linked at the hip.
Donald played catcher at the collegiate level but now concentrates his time on teaching young kids the nuances of the game — including hitting.
He teaches batters an Albert Pujols or Barry Bonds approach to hitting, which puts backspin on the ball, allowing the hitter to drive.
“I enjoy passing along my knowledge of the game,” Donald said. “I could be sitting in a bar rather than teaching kids. But it’s worth it when you see a kid become successful after all that hard work has paid off.”
If Wilkinson isn’t working, playing ball or working out to train for baseball, he’s on the phone with Donald, going over batting techniques or scenarios behind the plate. And this approach earned him a start in the second game of a double-header against Stahl Post 30 on June 11.
Wilkinson’s hard work in the batting cages didn’t yield a hit, but he did earn two walks and formed a human barricade behind the plate. That’s nothing to sneeze at, since Stahl pulls players from Caravel Academy and William Penn.
“He seemed like he has a pretty good feel for the game and if you can catch it at the Legion level then you’re definitely good,” said Stahl head coach Tom Eller.
“I feel really comfortable with him behind the plate,” said Post 28 assistant coach Mike Casale. “I was worried about his arm, but I’m glad Jodi (Sweetman) asked him to play for our team.”
“This is a great experience for him next year,” he added.
“I told him that baseball is a humbling sport, so to be patient. But coming up as a sophomore, he should be a head-and-shoulders pick for the starting catching position,” Donald said. “Now, I don’t know who else is at that position, but I know Bo is willing to put in the hard work and he understands the game.”
“Bo can attain those things,” Clausen said. “He’s really grown. I think he grew four or five inches this past year and he still has to fill out. But he has a great support system around him and, most importantly, he wants it.”