Pope John Paul II’s James Bleming, signed his letter of intent to play baseball at Division I’s Lehigh University. James is seated with father,
Pope John Paul II's James Bleming, signed his letter of intent to play baseball at Division I's Lehigh University. James is seated with father, Jim Bleming, and mother, Sue Bleming. (Photo courtesy Pope John Paul II athletics)

James Bleming showed plenty of infield versatility last summer and fall while playing for his All-Star Baseball Academy Travel team.

The standout Pope John Paul II senior is hoping that trait can serve him well at the next level.

Bleming, an All-Area first team selection last year, has signed a letter of intent to attend Lehigh University and play for the NCAA Division I Mountain Hawks, who compete in the Patriot League.

"I thought of home when I was there,' said Bleming, who also considered Penn State, Rider, Mount St. Mary's and the University of Pennsylvania. "It was a medium-sized school; I didn't want to go to a huge school. Plus they have a really good business school (his planned major) and interactive classrooms. I just could see myself there.'

Lehigh, coached by Sean Leary, went 5-15 in the Patriot League and 18-29 overall last year. Leary, who is in his 19th season, entered this year with a 355-463-7 career mark. He has coached five All-Americans (Pat Hollander, Jack Muscalus, Jesse Novalis, Matt McBride and Joe Ercolano), two All-Region selections (Eric Hoffman and Matt McBride), a Patriot League Pitcher of the Year (Dave Cerminaro) and two Patriot League Players of the Year (Novalis and McBride). He has also coached five players who have moved on to play professional ball, including Ben Talbott, Kyle Collina, Mike Lebo, Andrew Berger and McBride.

"I definitely liked the coaching staff,' said Bleming, who was recruited by Leary and assistant John Fugett. "One of the things they told me is I'll have a chance to earn a position next year, and that was a big factor in my choice to work there. It's something to work toward.'

A right-swinging shortstop, the 5-11, 170-pound Bleming hit a league-best .566 (30-for-53) in Pioneer Athletic Conference play last year for the Golden Panthers, highlighted by six doubles, five triples, 17 RBI and 16 runs. He had four different three-hit games and five other multi-hit performances for PJP.

Formerly a three-sport athlete who played quarterback for the PJP football team and point guard for the basketball team (he led the area in 3-pointers this winter with 69), Bleming gave up football to concentrate on fall ball for All-Star Sports Academy, whose squad competed in tournaments in places such as Virginia, North Carolina and Florida.

"I felt like it was an opportunity I couldn't pass up,' Bleming said,

Bleming made the most of that opportunity, according to All-Star Sports Academy coach Mike Manning.

"He's always had the ability to make solid contact, and as he matures and grows and has a singular focus on baseball, I think the sky's the limit as far as his offensive ability,' Manning said. "It took him a little bit of time to get used to the speed of the pitching we face. We rarely saw a kid who threw under 87-88 (miles an hour), and kids in our area don't see that day in and day out. But once he did he just took off from there.'

Bleming shuttled between shortstop, second and third base over the summer an fall, something he hopes can help him crack the Mountain Hawks' lineup sooner rather than later.

"I can play anywhere they need me,' he said.

"He made every play for us,' Manning said. "He always caught the ball in the pocket, and his throws were always accurate at the chest. At the next level, that's going to help him get on the field very quickly.'

The son of Jim and Sue Bleming of Limerick and a member of the school's National Honor Society, Bleming hopes to help the Golden Panthers rebound from last season's 5-13 PAC-10 and 5-14 overall marks and be a league contender this year.

"We want to win a PAC-10 championship,' he said. "We have a lot of senior leadership, and I think we have the potential to do it. I'm not going to be worried about my stats as long as we're winning and I get hits when they count.'

Follow Darryl Grumling on Twitter at @MercSmokinD.