Before each at-bat — something he started doing in the fourth grade “to get out of a hitting funk” — a bright-eyed Athanasios “Thano” Fourlas goes through a ritual.
He strolls to the batter’s box, tugs the front of his No. 13 jersey and then taps home plate four times.
“I do a cross,” said the Highland Park High School senior third baseman, who is Greek Orthodox.
“I’m pretty in tune [with my faith].”
The same almost could be said about baseball.
But baseball is not a religion to Fourlas. He may love and adore the grand game, but he doesn’t plan to pursue America’s Pastime in college.
But after what he did the other day, maybe he should reconsider his future course.
Fourlas definitely was not in any kind of funk during HP’s unorthodox twin bill — two games against two opponents — on April 15 at Wolters Field.
He was … in tune.
The solidly built Fourlas, a three-year varsity player, smashed a pair of home runs and added a bunt single in HP’s 9-3 victory over Evanston in Game One.
Then, in a 6-5 loss to Fremd in Game Two, Fourlas went 3-for-3 with a bunt single and a sacrifice bunt.
So, here’s his two-game hitting line: 6-for-7, two home runs, two bunt singles, a ringing double to the base of the fence in center field, a ripped single to left field and a sacrifice bunt. His only out was a sharp grounder to third base.
“Two home runs in one game? You can’t write it up any better than that,” said HP teammate David Adelstein, who ended up 3-for-3 with a three RBIs against Evanston. “He had himself a day.
“I’ve never seen that [power] before,” added Adelstein, who has been teaming up with Fourlas on local baseball diamonds since he was 7. “It was good to see. Hopefully, he’ll continue to do that.”
Turning into Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant — even for one day — seemed to be a reach for Fourlas. That solo blast over the center field fence in the fourth inning was the first home run of his varsity career.
His second round-tripper, with one out and the score tied 3-3 in the sixth inning, was a “real trip” for Fourlas. His fist pumps between first and second told it all.
“I knew it was big for us,” said Fourlas. “I couldn’t hold back my emotions.”
His big swing unlocked HP’s offense. The Giants wound up scoring six runs in that vital sixth inning to cruise to a six-run victory over a talented Central Suburban League foe.
“It certainly helps us, when he hits the ball like that,” said HP shortstop Noah Shutan. “That’s just someone seeing the ball really well.
“Thano is gifted,” Shutan added. “He’s a very good baseball player. He can hit, run and field. He’s what you want in a baseball player.”
Fourlas, who didn’t swing and miss the entire day, left Shutan shaking his head — with admiration.
“The thing about baseball is that you can be great one day and maybe not so great the next day,” said Shutan. “Today, Thano was great.”
Imagine this. Fourlas’ day had the potential to be even greater than it was.
In his final at-bat of the day, in the bottom of the seventh inning with HP trailing Fremd by one run, 6-5, with no outs, Fourlas went head to head against relief ace Ashton Statz.
And here’s where Fourlas turned into the ultimate team player.
After senior first baseman Jacob Mandel opened the inning with a single, HP coach Dan Casey gave Fourlas a chance to end the game with one swing.
First pitch? The right-handed hitting Fourlas was right on it. He fouled a Statz’ pitch straight back.
“I gave him one swing in that situation. You have to,” said Casey.
Needing to get Mandel in scoring position, the HP head coach changed tactics and gave Fourlas the bunt sign.
“It made sense,” said Fourlas, who hit leadoff for the 2015 CSL North League champions. “We needed to get Mandel to second.
“I try to do whatever I can to help the team win.”
Pitch No. 2? Fourlas tapped a perfect bunt down the first-base line and moved Mandel to second.
“He did his job,” praised Casey.
Unfortunately for the Giants (7-7, 2-0), the strategy didn’t work out. Statz retired Jack Zeidler and Jack Kramer on hot-shot ground balls to end the game. Mandel was stranded at second.
And don’t forget about Fourlas’ defense. The kid can throw some leather.
In the top of the fifth inning against Evanston, he made a highlight-reel play at third base to rob Chris Brown of a hit. The bearded No. 4 hitter absolutely clobbered it.
“I think I was a little lucky on that one,” said Fourlas. “It took a funky hop. But I was able to stay with it. I think it was more luck than skill on that one.”
After 14 incredible innings, a sports writer asked Fourlas if he was tapped out.
“I’d play another one,” he said.
“After a nap.”
Notable: This is what you want from your No. 9 hitter. Senior outfielder David Adelstein had three hits and drove in three runs in HP’s 9-3 win over Evanston on April 15. He doesn’t mind the slot. “I like hitting ninth,” Adelstein said. “You get a lot of good pitches. A lot of first-pitch fastballs.” His biggest hit against the Wildkits came in the bottom of the sixth, when the right-handed batter laced a two-run double to right-center field. … Eight HP players came up with hits against Evanston. Henry Singer had two hits. … Tyler Gussis picked up the win with four solid innings of work in relief of starter Jack Zeidler. “Gussis has been a big asset,” said HP head coach Dan Casey. … In addition to Thano Fourlas, the key hitters for HP in the loss to Fremd included Singer (2-4, stolen base), Adelstein (RBI double), Jacob Mandel (2 hits) and Jack Zeidler (RBI double). … HP second baseman William Minzenberger turned in a web gem in the fifth inning, when he made a diving catch to rob a hit from Fremd’s Eric Bennes.