Laurel resident Josh Simon knew when he arrived at Virginia Commonwealth University last year as a freshman baseball player there were two upperclassmen ahead of him on the team’s depth chart.
“I knew it would be a grind day in and day to prove myself I was the right man for job for my freshman year or the three years coming up,” said Simon, now a sophomore catcher for the Rams, “and not necessarily be a me guy and worry about my stats.”
That approach paid off for Simon, who grew up in south Laurel and went to Montpelier Elementary and Eisenhower Middle School. Simon grew up in the Laurel High district but attended St. John’s College High in Washington, D.C.
He saw action in 21 games in 12 starts and hit .220 in 50 at bats as a freshman for the Rams, a Division I member of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
This year, Simon started in 18 of the first 23 games and was hitting.193 with five doubles and eight RBIs.
But his main responsibility, just like any other team-first catcher, is working with the VCU pitching staff.
One of those pitchers is Jake Alkire, a former high school opponent in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC). Alkire is a junior from Cheverly and played at DeMatha Catholic High in Hyattsville.
Alkire pitched in just one game last year as a sophomore but posted a 4.26 ERA in his first five outings this year.
“It is awesome to play with him,” Simon said. “In high school he would make our team struggle a lot. Now it is nice to catch him. His fastball has a lot of movement. From last year to this year you see a lot of improvement. His off-speed pitch is crucial; it keeps hitters off balance.”
Simon attracted attention from several Division I schools while in high school, including Cincinnati, Old Dominion and Virginia Tech. “When I came on the visit to VCU I loved the facilities and of course finances helped,” said Simon, who is on a partial athletic scholarship.
The Rams play their home games at The Diamond, which is also the home of Double-A Richmond team that plays in the Eastern League and is a farm club of the San Francisco Giants. The Bowie Baysox, a farm team for the Baltimore Orioles, is also in the Eastern League.
Other schools in the Atlantic 10 include Richmond, a rival of the Rams; George Washington and George Mason.
“It is a good conference level, especially this year,” Simon said. “We are going to have a good conference. Every game counts. There are good arms in the conference. Going into the tourney, we are trying to get the number one seed.”
George Washington hosted the Atlantic 10 tournament in 2016 and last year the tourney was in St. Louis, which also has a school in the conference. The Rams play a non-conference game at the University of Maryland in College Park on April 17 and Simon expects to have a lot of family and friends there.
Simon began playing baseball with the Laurel Boys and Girls Club at an early age and also played in a youth league in Savage, in Howard County.
This summer, he plans to play in the Maryland-based Cal Ripken Collegiate League.
Simon plans to study accounting and he has been able to attend men’s basketball games at VCU, where there have been more than 100 sellouts in a row. The Rams did not play the NCAA tournament this year after seven appearances in a row. “They are really fun to go to,” Simon said of the Rams games. “We have a young team and hopefully we can build up.”
Catching runs in his family. His older brother, Brett, is junior catcher for La Salle University, in Philadelphia, and he also played at St. John’s. Brett Simon helped St. John’s win two titles in a row in the WCAC while he was in high school.
Brett Simon was also a wrestling champion while with the Cadets. The elder Simon is hitting .279 in 15 games played this season for the Explorers.