A new era begins this year in Chestnut Hill with Mike Gambino taking over the Boston College program after Mik Aoki departed for Notre Dame. The 2000 BC graduate enters his first season as head coach of the Eagles after spending the last four years as an assistant coach on the Virginia Tech coaching staff. He also served as a volunteer assistant at BC from 2003-2005.
Gambino is making an impact early with his changes to the program, which range in scale from planning a new stadium, to starting a new tradition honoring a former teammate, to infusing competition in the outfield, with many players fighting for starting positions. When asked about the coaching transition, senior 1B/OF Mike Sudol said “Anytime you bring in a new coach, it breeds competition…no ones spot is locked. Everyone has been busting their butts since Day 1.” Senior catcher Garret Smith added “The level of competition we have seen in the past four to five months have been really good.”
That competition is most evident in the outfield spots, as All-ACC outfielder Robbie Anston vacates the centerfield position. The first name that comes to mind to fill that spot for coach Gambino is redshirt junior Marc Perdios, who has battled injuries throughout his time on the Heights, sitting out the entire 2009 season with a knee injury. Last season, Perdios appeared in only 14 games (six starts) as he hit .158 with two homers and two RBI. His bad luck has continued this winter as he is not expected to be 100 percent on opening day as he recently came down with mono, which might limit his playing time especially early on.
The other two spots in the outfield are wide open with several players in the mix. Freshman Tom Bourdon, senior Mike Sudol, and junior Andrew Lawrence are competing for the other two everyday positions. Bourdon was selected in the 38th round by the Boston Red Sox out of Northwest Catholic High School in Simsbury, Connecticut. “He has the chance to be a special player here at BC” boasted Gambino, who most recently coached 2010 MLB third round draftee Austin Wates at Virginia Tech.
Sudol’s senior leadership will have tangible significance for the Eagles, but the number he carries this season will bear a sentimental meaning. Gambino is starting the tradition of awarding the number “8” jersey to a player each year in honor of former Eagle and Gambino’s college roommate Sonny Nictakis, who lost his battle with Hodgkins disease in the summer of 2000. He was a two-time captain for the Eagles in 1998 and 1999. No Boston College baseball player has donned the number since the 1999 season, and this year Mike Sudol has the honor.
“Bringing Sonny’s No. 8 back is something that is very important to me and one of the first things I wanted to do as head coach,” Gambino said. “Wearing his number will be the biggest honor a player can receive in our program. It will be given to one player each year – the one that best shows the qualities that made Sonny such a great teammate, great leader and great friend.
“When we think about what we want in this program and the type of kids we want to represent BC baseball, Sonny was the embodiment of all those qualities: hard worker, great teammate, leader, unselfish, committed to being great at everything he did.” Gambino added. “He handled adversity, never complained and held himself and everyone around him to an incredibly high standard. Sonny didn’t care whether or not anyone liked him. He had true confidence in himself because of the morals and values instilled in him by his family and he had the integrity to always do the right thing. And that’s part of why everyone loved him.”
Sudol stated “I know how much Sonny meant to Coach Gambino, and will try to live up to the expectations and starting the new tradition.”
Even though he’s in competition for an outfield spot, Sudol could be sporting that number at first base, left open by the loss of Mickey Wiswall after the Mariners selected him in the 7th round of the 2010 MLB Draft. According to Mike Gambino, “Mike Sudol, Kyle Prohovich and Rob Moir are all battling it out for that position. Sudol has picked up the position quickly while putting himself right into the mix for being a converted outfielder.”
The Boston College infield returns three out of the four everyday starters from last year’s squad that finished with a .979 fielding percentage, which was the third best in the country last season.
Matt Hamlet returns to second base after a solid 2010 season which saw him hit .291 with three homers and 36 RBI. He split time this summer between the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox of the Cape Cod League and the North Shore Navigators of the NECBL. With the Red Sox, Hamlet hit .167 in 16 games totaling 36 at-bats. At mid-season, he went to the North Shore Navigators as he hit .194 with four RBI.
Anthony Melchoinda, who began the 2010 season at first base before switching back to his natural position of third base midseason, leads the returning infield. In 2010, he ended up leading the team in batting average at .358. He started all 58 games, hitting seven homers and driving in 41 runs. He was solid this summer in the NECBL with the North Shore Navigators as he hit .248 with two homers and 19 RBI in 38 games.
He will be joined on the left side of the infield by junior Brad Zapensas, who has started at shortstop for the past two seasons for the Eagles. He had a .318 batting average with a homer and 14 RBI last year while starting every game. He was excellent at shortstop as he made six errors for a fielding percentage of .978. He played the summer of 2010 in the Northwoods League with the Green Bay Bullfrogs, playing a total of 61 games while hitting .285 and driving in 28 runs. He ended up winning the 2010 Rawlings Finest in the Field Award for his outstanding defense in the Northwoods League with a .980 fielding percentage.
Behind the plate will be senior Garret Smith, who is entering his second season behind the dish after spending his first two seasons as the starting shortstop. When asked about the impact of new assistant coach Scott Friedholm has had on him this fall, Smith stated “Scott has helped with the pitch calling and try to start having me think like a hitter.” Starting pitcher John Leonard was equally impressed with the development of Smith behind the plate saying “For a kid that has caught for 1.5 years, he is pretty good back there.”
That starting pitching staff that Smith will be catching will be led by junior RHP Mike Dennhardt, senior RHP John Leonard, and senior LHP Nate Bayuk. Dennhardt finished last season with a 4-7 record and an ERA of 7.22. Leonard went 2-2 with a 7.53 ERA in eight starts as he missed the start of the season with an arm injury. Bayuk only appeared in seven games last season out of the bullpen recording an ERA of 3.86 while not getting a decision.
Both Dennhardt and Leonard spent the summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League. Dennhardt played with the Chatham Anglers, going 2-3 in 8 starts with a 1.80 ERA over 45 innings, while Leonard pitched with the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox going 3-3 in six starts with a 1.96 ERA over 36.2 innings pitched. Bayuk spent the summer in the NECBL with the Lowell All-Americans. He worked out of the bullpen in all 16 appearances going 1-1 with an ERA of 1.80.
Both Dennhardt and Leonard were very happy with their experiences in the Cape League saying it was an excellent experience and the best times of their lives.
Dennhardt will be making the adjustment into the number 1 starter role this season as he served as the Eagles number man for most of the 2010 season. In a recent interview, he stated “It’ll be a challenge I look forward to. I’m going to turn a lot of heads this spring. I made the necessary adjustments this past summer and can’t wait to go head to head with some of the best players in the country.”
The backend of the bullpen will be in excellent shape with junior RHP Matt Brazis entering the season as the closer. Last season, he recorded nine saves in 29 appearances while going 1-0 with a 4.73 ERA. He spent the summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League as a teammate of Mike Dennhardt with the Chatham Anglers. Brazis ended up appearing in 12 games going 3-0 with three saves and an ERA of 1.32. “We will start the season with Brazis as the closer, but if the middle relief struggles early on, we might end up using him earlier in games to get some key outs,” commented BC head coach Mike Gambino.
The two biggest losses to the pitching staff are last year’s number 1 starter Pat Dean, who moved on to the minor leagues, and junior RHP Taylor Lasko, who will miss the 2011 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. Last season, he was a key arm as he appeared in 21 games making eight starts, going 4-2 with a 5.14 ERA.
The Eagles will open the season on February 18th in Conway, South Carolina, against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. The tough early slate continues as they travel to face the third ranked Florida Gators on February 24th and 25th, then head to Fort Myers, Florida, to play the Boston Red Sox, and then return to Gainesville to play the final game of the three game set against the Gators on February 27th. According to Gambino, his former teammates from the late 90′s still talk about getting hits in the annual game against the Red Sox and the players look forward to it every season. BC will also participate in a tournament at Bethune-Cookman before starting the grueling ACC schedule.
Photos are the courtesy of BC Media Relations