St. Charles North senior pitcher Ankur Shah is much more self-assured about his baseball career now compared to this time last year. For one thing, the left-hander made an offseason college commitment to Illinois-Chicago. For another, he’s added about five miles per hour to his heater, and is now throwing in the mid-80s. In this week’s Weekend Chit-chat with Chronicle sports editor Jay Schwab, Shah touches on a childhood injury that became a blessing in disguise, his offseason progress and the 2013 North Stars’ prospects. The following is an edited transcript:
How old were you when knew pitching was the right path for you?
I knew ever since when I broke my wrist [in fourth grade]. I broke my wrist and when I came back, that’s when I knew I wanted to be a pitcher because once I broke my wrist, my ball started moving a lot better. My wrist was broken and then my dad actually set it at a 15-degree angle because my dad is a doctor. … It’s not really straight so I can’t really throw without having movement on my fastball.
So it was kind of a conscious decision on you and your dad’s part?
A little bit. He knew I played baseball and he said ‘Why not try it?’ Let’s see that happens.
Have you heard of other pitchers trying that intentionally?
No, I haven’t. I’m not really sure, but all I know is I haven’t really heard of anybody getting it set like that but I guess it’s turned out for the good.
In what areas do you think you’ve made the most progress leading up to this year?
I think I’ve made the most progress in velocity. My velocity has increased [substantially] from last year to this year. I’m on a velocity program us pitchers at St. Charles North are doing this year. I think we’re going to surprise some people with our velocity this year because all of us pitchers have made a huge jump.
What’s your sense of what kind of pitching staff you guys are going to put out there this year?
A lot of people are underestimating our ability. Everyone thinks we don’t have as much talent as we’ve had [in the past] … But I think our pitching staff is going to keep us in a lot of games this year. Cory Wright is going to be a good one, Sawyer Chambers is going to be good. … I think we have some strong guys coming out of the bullpen as well.
North has been so consistently good, year after year. Is that a lot to live up to?
Yeah, every class is different. We just focus on us. We can’t focus on what’s happened in the past, what is going to happen in the future. We’re just worried about this year’s team and how this year’s team can make a difference. Last year we had a heartbreaking loss in the regional championship, but it’s a new year.
Any guys on the team who have caught your eye swinging a good stick in the preseason?
Ryan Thomas has been doing an excellent job, he’s going to [Elgin Community College], he’s going to be a big bat in our order, same as Jack Dennis and Frankie Farry and Cory Wright as well. And Kurt Barbeau is a stud – he’s playing shortstop this year. I think we have a pretty good lineup and we’re going to put some runs on the board.
Once the games do get going do you think it’s advantage for a pitcher this time of year before it warms up?
Especially since it’s cold outside now, our pitching staff is going to be at a lot of an advantage because obviously pitchers are way ahead of hitters [early in the season]. Especially going down to Marion [to start the season] where it’s a little warmer, we can get some good work in.