Baggett makes good with his bag of skills
Striking out might be the worst feeling in baseball.
Striking out a few times in one game can send players into slumps.
In his much-anticipated freshman year at Bentley University, East Bridgewater High grad Greg Baggett struck out seven times in 13 plate appearances and did not record a hit. He nearly walked away from the game.
After his final at-bat of that dreadful 2009 season, Baggett did not record another plate appearance at Bentley for almost two years.
“He can do things with a baseball bat that other people can’t,’’ said Bentley assistant coach Kevin Loftus, a former All-American outfielder at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. “But it’s been a hard process because on the surface you have a [Major League] draft pick, but between the ears you have an immature baseball player.’’
There’s a certain sound that comes off the bat when a hitter makes perfect contact. The bat head needs to smash through the center of the baseball on a level plane, making it a difficult noise to create.
But when Baggett is locked in, the loud crackling sound repeats over and over, the ball “flying off his bat,’’ said Bentley senior pitcher Blaine McLean, Baggett’s roommate for four years, who said he “should tour the country taking batting practice’’
At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, with a strong arm behind the plate and a powerful, long swing, Baggett, who was also highly recruited as a tight end out of high school, was expected to make an immediate impact as a freshman with the Falcons. But he never settled into a comfort zone that season, and things only got worse the following year, when he had his eye on the starting catching position, only to lose the job to walk-on sophomore Kevin Korwek.
Baggett did not log a single plate appearance and was all but dismissed from the team after a spring trip to Florida.
“When you’re doing that bad, the at-bats just hurt,’’ Baggett said. “It’s not easy. I was young at that point. I didn’t know how to handle not playing well. I wasn’t really sure on the type of adjustments I had to make. My mindset just wasn’t right.’’
He even considered playing football again, hoping it wasn’t too late to revive his career on the gridiron.
“After some serious soul searching and talking to my family, I couldn’t quit,’’ he said. “Baseball - if you’re truly passionate about it and if you love it - you can’t let anyone tell you you’re not good enough.
“The thing about this game is you’re going to fail more times than you’re going to succeed. You really have to understand what that means.’’
After the 2010 season, Baggett logged as many plate appearances as he could with three clubs: South Shore (Cranberry League), Palmer Club (Park League), and Savin Hill (Yawkey League), trying not only to rediscover his groove, but to figure out how to deal with failure.
He showed up for his junior season with confidence and made 43 starts (24 at catcher, 16 at designated hitter, and three in left field), and led the Falcons in slugging (.500), total bases (80), walks (21), and on-base percentage (.362) while hitting eight home runs with a .269 average and eight home runs in 160 at-bats.
“He just had a lot of maturing and developing to do as a player,’’ Loftus said, “just learning how to go through the ups and downs.’’
This season, in the wooden bat Northeast-10, Baggett is again earning everyday playing time (18 starts at catcher, 18 at DH) for a 23-20 club.
He is hitting .275 with seven homers and 26 RBIs in 131 at-bats, but he has also struck out 39 times, once per 3.35 at-bats, drawing contrasts to Adam Dunn of the Chicago White Sox (who is annually among MLB leaders in strikeouts, though he has also hit at least 38 homers six times over his career).
“I’m not too proud of that comparison,’’ said Baggett, who could potentially use his final year of eligibility while in graduate school next fall. “Some guys have that type of swing.’’
“He has all the physical tools that scouts look for,’’ Loftus said. “It’s just such a thinking game with him. Every day is tough. He’s like a Jekyll and Hyde. But he’s growing up, and we’ll work with him until he’s gone.’’
Baggett hit three homers in one day two weeks ago (a double-header vs. Franklin Pierce), and for now, at least, he is back on top. But the next strikeout will present another challenge in the recovery.
One at a time, Baggett is hoping to beat them all. As long as he goes down swinging.
Murphy is shining in Springfield’s rise
Mansfield High graduate Ryan Murphy has played a big role in the Springfield College lacrosse team’s rise to number 15 in the country among Division 3 teams. The left-handed midfielder, who loves to carry the ball, has 30 points (17 goals) on the season, including three game-winners.
“When I came here, I wanted to be in a competitive atmosphere, but I didn’t think I’d play that much as a sophomore,’’ he said. “It’s mainly been confidence, just knowing I’m able to play at that level.’’
Here and there
Plymouth North grad Matt Walsh, a freshman at Franklin Pierce, was named Northeast-10 Conference Player of the Week and Rookie of the Week for the period ending April 22 after going 8 for 16 with two homers and six RBIs. He is hitting .327 this season. . . . In his 15th season as the head coach at his alma mater, Patrick Boen earned his 400th win at the helm of the Stonehill baseball program Wednesday with a 4-1 victory over UMass Lowell. He is 400-291-2 overall.
Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.