By Chris Gionta
The day before their first game of the year, the Springfield College baseball team had to practice through rain. And for the 2020 season, it rained a fountain of youth for the squad. In fact, 22 out of the 45 roster spots are taken by first-year players. A lot of them will not just be tasked with getting foul balls and putting gear away; they will be making an impact on the field.
“Half our team, about, is freshmen,” junior outfielder Jack Cooney said. “So they’re definitely going to get put in positions to succeed this year. A couple that can make immediate splashes are dudes like Mike Barrett at shortstop; Joe Traversa will be bouncing around in the middle infield and third base; and Alex Gonfrade, who’s a lefty pitcher.”
Head coach Mark Simeone is looking to fill some key roles this year, possibly with some of the first-years. The three most impactful subtractions from the 2019 roster were pitcher Brian Johnson and infielders Brandon Russo and Mark Joao. In 2019, Johnson had a 2.73 ERA and 61 strikeouts through 52.2 IP, and was a talent that was being looked at by MLB teams.
Russo was a force at the top of the lineup with a .418 on-base percentage and 27 stolen bases in 35 games played. Joao hit .380 and slugged .620 while leading the team in home runs and runs batted in. With the losses of Russo and Joao, it makes sense why Cooney believes that some of the first-years making the biggest impact will be infielders.
The team looks to improve upon a 2019 campaign in which they had a 20-17 record and were eliminated in the NEWMAC quarterfinal by MIT. Their offense produced an impressive 5.6 runs per game. The Pride’s pitching had a 4.97 ERA, and their defense made plays with a .964 fielding percentage.
Players to Watch
With Brian Johnson graduated, Springfield’s rotation will be headed by junior Noah Bleakley. He was second on the team in innings pitched in 2019 with 39.0, and sported a 4.62 ERA. He had 38 strikeouts to eight walks for a 4.8 K/BB ratio. Not only that, but he is a key part of the lineup. His 20 runs batted in ranked third on the team in 2019.
In just two years playing for the Pride, outfielder Jack Cooney has already made himself an impressive resumé. Through 66 career games with the team, he has a .343 batting average alongside a .432 on-base percentage and 36 stolen bases. He led the team in hits in 2019, and tied for the team lead in RBI with Brandon Russo.
One particular infielder had a quieter 2019 than the two players above, but received high praise from Cooney, who believes that 2020 will be his breakout year.
“He definitely worked himself into a role last year as a starter, but he was kind of a mix-and-match and was fighting for a role,” Cooney said. “But this year I think Jack Simonetty is going to definitely play a key factor in our lineup. He’s going to kind of be like a cornerstone of our team in the infield. He’s going to have to play multiple positions, and he’s going to be right smack dab in the middle of our lineup. I think he’s going to have a big year for sure.”
Closing it Out With a Comeback
There was plenty of offensive talent on the Pride in 2019, yet they were still missing a key player in their lineup for most of the year. His name is Chad Shade, and he is looking to be what he was in 2017 and 2018 – a star.
In his first year with the team, the outfielder made an immediate impact on the team by hitting .311 with an .818 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) and stealing 10 bases. Despite the impressive season, he took a step up the next year by hitting .331 with a .907 OPS while stealing 32 bases. He led the team in runs scored (49), hits (53), home runs (four), and stolen bases in 2018.
Due to leg complications, he only played seven games in 2019, but is now fully healthy. Although, health does not help knocking any rust off.
“Yeah, there’s definitely a little bit of rust,” Shade said. “For a couple weeks, I was still trying to feel a couple things out, and I wasn’t swinging it too well.”
In times of frustration, however, Shade knows that he needs to keep composure when things are not going his way.
“But the biggest thing that we’ve kind of talked about as a team and also with our mental strength coach, is goal-setting stuff,” Shade said. “And one of my things I wanted to focus on this year was not being too high or too low. I think that’s the biggest thing with baseball in general, is just when things aren’t going well, to not get too frustrated and start pressing.”
Shade understands the patience necessary for success in baseball. He has been putting the work in to get back to form, with fellow outfielder Cooney helping him out.
“I had a lot of offseason work – obviously me and Jack are from the same hometown so we got to work out a lot together over break. We got a lot of good work in there, and that’s basically what I’ve been doing just to prepare for the season,” Shade said.
With Shade returning and other players looking to fill key roles, the Pride should be a very interesting team this spring. After defeating Colby-Sawyer 17-3 in its season opener, the Pride will host Western New England in a doubleheader on Saturday.