Hockey or baseball? Baseball or hockey?

A standout athlete who was drafted into two sports, Eric Certantola found himself faced with what turned out to be a not-so-difficult decision.

“I grew up playing hockey, but I fell in love with baseball,” said the Quad Cities River Bandits pitcher.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander whose fastball average is just a notch above the mid-90s now thinks more than ever he made the right decision when he chose to see where baseball could take him. carry out.

“It’s been about a year now and I’m excited about the possibilities,” Cerantola said. “The Royals organization suits me perfectly. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Still, Cerantola initially faced a choice.

He was born in Montreal, where he first put on a pair of skates at the age of six and flourished.

He spent most of his youth in Toronto, where he was introduced to baseball.

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“I played baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter. I enjoyed both, but the more baseball I played, the more I liked the game,” Cerantola said.

Cerantola was drafted in the eighth round of the 2016 Ontario Hockey League draft by the Owen Sound Attack after leading the Oakville Rangers Minor Midget AAA team with 15 goals and 16 assists in 34 games.

By then, at the end of his second year of high school, Cerantola was already enjoying success on the diamond as a pitcher and outfielder as well.

He played for the Oakville A youth program and helped that organization win four consecutive provincial championships.

A member of the Canadian U18 national team that finished fourth at the World Championships in 2017, Cerantola’s work in baseball was attracting the attention of college scouts and scouts.

At the end of his freshman year at École Secondaire Catholique Sainte-Trinité in Oakville, Ontario, where he also played volleyball, Cerantola decided to take up baseball.

“Both sports were a big part of my growth, but I didn’t find it such a difficult decision,” Cerantola said. “I had found a good college program in Mississippi State, good competition in the SEC, and I was fully committed to playing baseball at that time.”

He felt with his size, he now packs 225 pounds in his 6-5 frame, and a promising collection of pitches that pursuing opportunities in baseball made the most sense.

The Tampa Bay Rays also accepted and selected him after his senior year of high school in the 30th round of the baseball draft.

Cerantola stuck to his decision to pitch for Mississippi State and appeared in 11 games as a rookie with the Bulldogs, the last to play a relief role in the 2019 College World Series.

In three seasons at Mississippi State, he combined for a 4-2 record with a 4.41 ERA before the Royals organization picked him in the fifth round of the 2021 draft.

“The experience I had against good competition in the SEC every time was what I needed,” Cerantola said. “I regularly faced top draft picks and top prospects and that was the kind of challenge I wanted coming out of high school.”

This forced Cerantola to rely on more than his fastball power to deal effectively with opposing hitters.

“If I throw 98, there were guys out there who could hit that,” Cerantola said. “Mississippi State staff did a great job working with me and helping me make the kind of progress I needed.”

That work continues as he enters his first full season with the Kansas City organization.

Cerantola split time at the end of last season between the Royals’ two short-season rookie-level teams playing in the Arizona Complex League, achieving a 1.93 ERA in four games, including a pair departures.

He started the current season at Columbia, going 1-2 with a 5.48 ERA in seven starts before being reassigned to the River Bandits last month.

“Back in college, I always had a good connection with the Royals and their scouts. It was an ideal situation for me,” Cerantola said. “They always wanted me to be myself on the mound, to play to my strengths.”

He spent time at the Royals’ league training camp last fall, getting to know the staff within the organization and working on some minor mechanical tweaks, according to Cerantola, that will help build consistency in his throws.

After three starts with Quad Cities, Cerantola is 0-1 with an ERA that jumped to 5.00 when he left a Thursday start in Peoria after allowing three runs in 1.2 innings due of an injury.

He remains on the River Bandits’ active roster, trained with his teammates ahead of Friday’s game and will likely have what appeared to be a shoulder problem further diagnosed in the coming days.

Cerantola is working this season on developing his third pitch, a change, to go with his fastball and breaking ball.

“I always had those two pitches working for me. I know I have to get that third pitch, something to keep the hitters off balance, and that’s part of my focus now,” Cerantola said.

As he works deeper into the season, Cerantola expects to develop the use of his change while continuing to refine his fastball.

“I feel more and more comfortable with every game after game,” Cerantola said. “I use them to build on each other, using what I learn from one start and transferring it to the next. If I do that, I should be able to make the kind of progress I hope to make.