Westhill’s Mika Petersen opts to stay home for baseball rather than leave town for hockey

If not for the global pandemic, Mika Petersen’s baseball career would likely be over.

Instead, the speedy outfielder from Westhill will continue to play baseball in college at Brown University.

It was a different road from the one he was originally on but it is a detour he is glad he got to take.

In addition to being an All-State caliber baseball player, Petersen is an elite ice hockey player who was drafted to play junior hockey in Michigan which would have meant missing his junior and senior baseball seasons at Westhill, essentially ending his baseball career.

Petersen always placed hockey as his top sport but kept playing baseball because he loved it.

Playing baseball in the summer of 2020 after most of the travel hockey had been shut down that winter, Petersen grabbed the attention of college baseball scouts while playing for coach Pat Vigilio at Baseball U in Connecticut.

“That’s when baseball got serious for me,” Petersen said. “That summer I played well for Baseball U and that kick started baseball for me and I started hearing from schools about baseball.”

The attribute that made Petersen stand out among coaches was his blazing speed, registering a sub 6.5 in the 60-yard dash – 6.5 seconds in the 60 is considered elite baseball speed.

Though it was not his plan, Petersen has embraced the new path.

“I take it as it goes, you never know where life will lead you,” Petersen said. “That COVID summer I had to adapt. Hockey tournaments were canceled and coaches couldn’t come watch you. It changed everything. I am so grateful for baseball and to get a chance when hockey was hit by COVID. If circumstances were different I could be playing hockey now but I am very grateful to be able to play baseball. ”

Hockey was still a strong option despite missing the chance to be seen in 2020.

In the winter of 2021, Petersen was able to do remote learning at Westhill while traveling with the Connecticut Rangers to live and play in Florida in January and February, where he was the youngest player on the team.

He did well enough there to draw interest from USHL coaches.

Last spring, Petersen was taken 284th overall by the Muskegon Lumberjacks in the 2021 USHL Entry Draft.

If he had gone to Muskegon, he would have moved to Michigan and either done his schooling remotely or would have had to attend a high school in Michigan.

Petersen instead chose to stay home and finish his academic and athletic career at Westhill with his friends.

“It was a COVID Blessing,” Westhill baseball coach Mike Riveles said. “He was being considered for Team USA. If he made it, he was probably going to move but COVID shut it down. I hate that he missed that opportunity because I know how hard he worked for it but we are so glad he is here. ”

Petersen is also thrilled to be getting a senior season on the diamond with his friends, many of whom he has played baseball with since Little League.

“I have loved every second playing baseball for Westhill and I am really grateful to be able to play with these guys,” Petersen said. “It’s a great bunch of guys and a great group of coaches. I’m really happy here, getting to be with my friends and playing a great game. ”

Petersen has committed to playing baseball at Brown and while he has spoken to the baseball and hockey coaches at school, playing two sports where the seasons overlap in college is unlikely.

Petersen’s father, Jere Petersen, the varsity wrestling coach at Greenwich High and a former football coach at Pace University, said Mika went back and forth weighing his options.

“It wasn’t easy,” Jere Petersen said. “He strongly considered going to Muskegon but really wanted to finish school with his friends. He considered doing a gap year after high school because college freshmen hockey players are usually closer to 21 years old but in baseball they come right from high school. ”

Being a former college coach, Jere knew what coaches look for in athletes and he always preached those traits to Mika.

“Being a good student helps a lot with college coaches,” Jere said. “I always asked coaches of kids I was recruiting ‘is he a good citizen and is he good in the classroom?’ I think Mika is both of those. He also works hard off the field, he lifts, he runs. Academically he is very efficient. He knows how to optimize his time spent doing anything and won’t spend a minute more studying than he feels is necessary. ”

That strategy seems to be working out as Petersen carries a 4.0 GPA and got a perfect score on his ACTs.

“He’s probably the smartest kid I’ve ever coached,” Riveles said. “He is studying things so beyond me. Sometimes he doesn’t ride the team bus home because he is taking college courses virtually at night. He’s a brilliant kid. ”

Riveles ‘praise of Petersen extends to the baseball field where he places him among the best he has ever coached, including Bobby Zmarzlak who currently patrols centerfield for the University of Maryland and preceded Petersen as the Vikings’ centerfielder.

“Outside of Bobby Zmarzlak, he’s the most explosive combination of speed and power I’ve seen,” Riveles said. “He will bunt for a hit and then hit a laser triple to the gap. I’m not kidding, I’ve seen umpires blow calls just because they’re completely caught off a guard that he just made a routine 4-3 play close with his speed. He is our super-human. In my life I’ve never known or come across a kid like him. Modest with brains and athleticism. ”

This season started off with Petersen going 2-for-3 off Barlow’s Stanford-bound pitcher Matt Scott and has continued to stay hot as he hits leadoff and plays a sterling centerfield.

He is batting .366 with four doubles, a triple, 15 runs scored and 17 stolen bases as the Vikings push for the FCIAC and CIAC Class LL state championships.

Sericson@stamfordadvocate.com; @EricsonSports

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