It takes a special kind of hitter to have enough power in your swing to impress Giancarlo Stanton.
But that’s one of the stories Lillo Paxia, a Gloucester Catholic High School senior and one of the state’s most lethal hitters, can tell.
Paxia was a seventh-grader at Eastampton Community school in Mount Holly when Brian Domenico, the president of International Power Showcase’s Amateur Home Run Derby, invited him to hit at Marlins Park. As if he was going to say no.
“I was like 12 or 13 years old,” Paxia said. “My parents were like, ‘Let’s go, have some fun.’”
The next thing you know Paxia is clanking 400-plus foot home run balls off the old Marlins home run sculpture just left of dead center at the now-8-year-old ballpark. And then he was posing with Babe Ruth’s granddaughter for a photo after winning the “Colossus of Clout” award for the longest home run and talking to Stanton behind the cage, too.
“‘Hey man you’re hitting balls where I’m hitting it and you’re only 13 years old, man,’” Paxia recalled of his conversation with Stanton five years ago. “‘Keep going at it.’ And he’s like 6-6 (in height) and I was about 5-5 at the time.”
Paxia hasn’t stopped launching balls into the abyss. Earlier this month, in Gloucester Catholic’s second game of the season against Schalick, Paxia hit a ball to center that kept on traveling at Joe Barth Field, one-hopping the blacktop that separates the field from Alice Costello Elementary School in Brooklawn.
“It was an absolute bomb,” Rams coach Adam Tussey said. “His work ethic is what separates him. He really is a student of the game, he puts in extra time all the time. Sure he was blessed with some talent, but his hard work and determination is what makes him so special.”
Paxia, a corner infielder committed to Florida State, chatted with South Jersey Sports Weekly after going 3-for-3 with three RBIs in a win over Pennsville.
South Jersey Sports Weekly: Are you going to Florida State so you can keep those colors (maroon and gold)?
Lillo Paxia: Yeah. [Laughs]. I’m very excited. (Coach Adam) Tussey and our team’s previous guys have really taught me well, how to handle the next level, what to do and what to expect. So I feel fully developed here and ready to go.
SJSW: What was it about Florida State that you liked?
Paxia: The winning history, the atmosphere, the family-like atmosphere – I loved it.
SJSW: Who taught you the game?
Paxia: [Lets out long sigh.] I had a wild story. I began playing baseball at 11 years old. To be honest with you, I was really fat as a kid. [Laughs]. My parents said, “You know, we’ve got to get you outside.” I went to my father’s friend’s team in Hamilton, New Jersey. And he taught me the basics of baseball.
SJSW: What’s your favorite baseball movie?
Paxia: What’s the one with the Thunderstick?
SJSW: Wonderboy? “The Natural?”
Paxia: Yeah, I love “The Natural.”
SJSW: Are there other pro baseball players you look up to?
Paxia: Mike Trout, Christian Yelich. They are both great guys on and off the field, you never hear anything negative about them and they’re always doing positive things on the field, helping out, after games giving autographs and never declining anybody. Those are great guys to look up to.
SJSW: What do you credit for your success? I mean, never playing the game until you’re 11 and then hitting home runs at Marlins Park a couple years later.
Paxia: My father (John), for always staying hard on me. He was never satisfied. If I went 4-for-4 he’d say, ‘Hey, I want you to hit the ball harder next time.’ He was just always hard on me. Not too hard, but I always wanted to satisfy him and satisfy myself. Always raising the bar.
SJSW: Do you play any other sports?
Paxia: No. I mean, before I began baseball at 11, I stopped racing Motocross. I’d ride nationally racing quads.
SJSW: Oh yeah?
Paxia: Yeah, that’s what I did. I went all around the country racing quads. Crazy.
SJSW: You’re a senior, right?
Paxia: Yes sir.
SJSW: So is the (MLB) draft something that keeps creeping into your thoughts?
Paxia: Yeah, I mean I’ve been talking to many, many scouts. So it’s getting crazy right now. A lot of guys are texting me, calling me. It’s very exciting. But right now I’m just focused on getting better here, helping the team. And I always have Florida State as an option, which I really want to go to. We’ll see how it goes.
SJSW: I was looking at Gloucester Catholic’s baseball history: 19 state titles. That’s 11 more than any other team in the state. How do you explain that?
Paxia: We work very hard. We’re out here way more hours than most regular teams. We practice seven days a week, sometimes we go multiple times a day, we’re here seven hours on a Sunday. The team bonding is crazy, we’re all family here, nobody has any hate against each other.
SJSW: What one player in South Jersey would you pay to watch?
Paxia: Jake Andrey (King’s Christian). We’re good friends and very similar at the plate. I wish I could throw it like he can. But he’s a great hitter, we’d always compete against each other.
SJSW: Who is the funniest guy in your dugout?
Paxia: Nick Stewart.
SJSW: If the game is on the line, who would you want at bat from your team?
Paxia: I don’t know if I can answer that one [laughs]. I have faith in all of my teammates.
SJSW: What’s your favorite thing to do outside of baseball? Still riding quads?
Paxia: Not as much anymore, I’ll go out on the trails and have some fun. But, I don’t know. … I like playing MLB The Show on PS4, I’ll play some of that.
SJSW: Who is your team?
Paxia: You create your own team on it. But if I were to play with a team it’d be the Yankees.
SJSW: Always a Yankees fan?
Paxia: My family is from New York. And Sicily (Italy). They moved from Sicily to New York. I was born in Trenton.
SJSW: Favorite school subject?
Paxia: [Eyes get big]. I like gym. Gym class is great.
SJSW: If you had a walk-up song, what would it be?
Paxia: I think I do have a walk-up song, it’s a Jay-Z song. “PSA (Public Service Announcement.”
SJSW: So you guys do walk-up songs here? I didn’t hear any.
Paxia: We do them here, it’s just, to be honest with you, my girlfriend is the one who does it and she had work.
SJSW: [Laughs] That’s great.