July 18, 2003
The Summer Baseball Diaries continue this week at und.com with an entry from rising sophomore lefthander Tom Thornton. The eternal wordsmith, Tom has provided a report that is resplendent with tall tales and his trademark verbiage – the type of clues that will assure his teammates that this diary entry is no forgery. Tom’s report has been bumped up the No. 2 spot, with Matt Macri checking in recently and due to send his entry from the Cape Cod League in the next few days.
Thornton has turned in a strong summer season with the Newport Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, posting a 2.87 ERA and 1-0 record in six appearances (five starts), with two complete games, one shutout, 27 strikeouts, 17 walks and 27 hits allowed in 31.1 innings (with a .237 opponent batting avg.).
The updated Summer Diary schedule (dates are approximate) is as follows:
July 11 – Javi Sanchez (Madison Mallards; Northwoods League)
July 16 – Tom Thornton (Newport Gulls; Northeast League)
July 21 – Matt Macri (Brewster Whitecaps; Cape Cod League)
July 26 – Matt Edwards (Waynesboro Generals; Shenandoah League)
July 31 – Greg Lopez (Delaware Cows; Great Lakes League)
Aug. 5 – Craig Cooper (Hays Larks; Jayhawk League)
Aug. 10 – Matt Bransfield (Colorado Sox; Rocky Mountain League)
ND Baseball 2003 Summer Diaries (Entry #2, Tom Thornton; July 18)
Upon arrival in Newport, two days after I got home in Middleboro, Mass., I was whisked away to greet my host family by one of the team owners. After a brief meeting with my host dad, an attorney, he had to return to his office for a meeting, leaving me to grapple with the colossal tonnage of nothing to do. I quickly found that there was no cable television, no pool halls, and no basketball courts complete with neighborhood youth balling from dawn till dusk. Truly, it was the downside of being located in the center of upper-middle class suburbia. Conversely, there is a Panera, beaches and a neighborhood Starbucks, all things that do not appear in my hometown.
My roommate, Chris Iannetta from the University of North Carolina, arrived a day later because UNC had just recently been eliminated by South Carolina in the Super Regional. The first game was a two-hour bus ride to Manchester, Conn., and we won the opener. The second game was at home, but I had the rare privilege of experiencing my first fog out. Cardines Field, the Newport Gulls home field, is the oldest ballpark that has been continually played on in the United States, dating back to 1890; it is also located right on the Naragganset Bay and when the wind blows right the fog rolls in and envelopes the field.
A day later, we took a three-hour bus ride down to Torrington, Conn., to play the Torrington Tornadoes. It was my first pitching appearance of the summer and a shutout in a rain shortened affair of six innings. Throughout the game, I was aided by some terrific defensive plays, including one from Seton Hall first baseman Tim Pahuta, and another from BYU outfielder Ryan Chambers.
One great thing about the lengthy bus rides is that there is ample time to associate with a variety of people from a multitude of backgrounds, regions, and religions. My catcher, Caesar Yepez, is from Venezuela and one of the other pitchers is a 23-year-old Mormon dude from San Diego, Paul Jacinto, who spent two years doing his mission work in Brazil. They both have interesting stories to tell. Although communication with my catcher is like wrestling with a kodiak brown bear, for spending only two years in this country he speaks better then I could ever do in the same situation.
Last Thursday, we traveled up to Sanford, Maine. We lost the game 3-0 but I got to catch up with fellow Irish pitcher, Martin Vergara. Marty is off to his usual great start, baffling hitters in relief roles, but with starts to come. He professed to living the good life, grooving large and in charge up in the Vacation Land. The following home games were also beset with excess fog that caused numerous delays, but after the first 15 games we are 9-6.
Today was the first day of work. It consisted of three hours of teaching baseball clinics for the Newport youth. After having virtually the same summer occupation for the past three years, the job is accompanied with the usual trademarks. By and large the kids are great, they are genuinely motivated to learn baseball and they show a good proclivity for the game; however, then there are those who care little either the game, respecting the instructors or following camp rules. Usually, they come around. Even if baseball is not in their immediate plans, if one can pin them down long enough to hammer home the basics – stay in school, off drugs, and away from any N.Y. Yankee apparel – one can walk away and know that they have been put on course to live a productive life. It really is a great job, the chance to teach the youth and give them something (even if it is just one little correctional instruction) that I did not get when I was a youth at these clinics. That all makes it the most rewarding thing I do in life.
As I travel around all over New England with my teammates I realize that I have a great setup here in Newport. It is a great tourist city, small, but with a multitude of things to do at every turn. Combine that with great teammates, and laid-back coaches who one can learn a lot from but who “let the river flow” and let the ballplayers “chillax” and just play baseball – it all makes for a great environment. The head coach is Terry Rupp, from the University of Maryland, who coached Grant Johnson last summer on Team USA. He brought one of his assistant coaches, J. C. Nolan, to work alongside our pitching coach, Brian Welch, from Occidental College (which is located just outside Los Angeles).
It is great to work with coach Welch, a laid-back, California surfer youth who has come home to his roots on the east coast. He is great to talk baseball with and is mechanically astute, all while possessing a carefree, easy-going approach, making adjustments at all levels of my pitching possible.
After winning nine of our last 11, the team seems to be hitting its stride at just the right time. The crowds are swelling, spanning from 500 to 2,000 on any given night. The hits are falling left and right, and the ball is going out like the trash on Tuesday. On the Fourth of July, which was parents weekend, we won our game against Thread City, then witnessed fireworks from a barge on the Narragansette Bay across the street. The following day was an off day. My girlfriend was in town from Cleveland for a few days and despite witnessing a dismal outing by myself on the mound, she did get to see the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, as well as the world famous Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and an evening harbor cruise with the rest of the team.
Just the other day, Team USA was in town for a game. It was interesting to meet Huston Street from University of Texas, Dustin Pedroia, from Arizona State, and Eric Patterson (Cory Patterson’s younger brother) from Georgia Tech when they came to this week’s youth camp to talk to the kids. It also was interesting then to speak with Street, Mark Romanczuk, from Stanford, and Micah Owens from Georgia Tech, among others during batting practice and in the bullpen during the game.
Our starting pitcher, Sam Graham, from Mississippi College, was terrific through six and a third, striking out five. Our second pitcher, Paul Jacinto from BYU, struck out five in the two innings he pitched. After seven the score was tied at one apiece. However, after a potentially easy double play was scuttled by a bad hop, the floodgates opened followed by Mr. Street coming in to shut the door in the eighth and ninth and we lost the game 6-1.
Despite the loss, meeting players who had just been prospect list names in the news print pages of “Baseball America” was great. But the most fun was playing in the atmosphere that Team USA coming to town created. On a warm July night, 100 feet from the bay, and in the shadow of remnant tall ships from the previous weekend’s monumental international sailing regatta, nearly 3,000 people packed into the nation’s oldest ballpark, just for a baseball game.
Although it is great here in Newport, the fall season cannot begin soon enough as everybody is anxious to get back to Notre Dame and begin work toward the new season. It should be mentioned that this journal would not be complete without discussing coach Brian O’Connor. On behalf of Marty and myself in the NECBL, we would like to thank coach O’Connor for his infinite contributions, as he tirelessly embraced and served the Notre Dame baseball program and the Notre Dame community. His lessons and his legacy will not soon be forgotten. We wish him nothing but the best as he embarks on his new endeavor at the University of Virginia.
Look forward to seeing all you Irish fans out at Eck Stadium in 2003-04.