By Jack Margaros
SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield College baseball team was well represented this summer across various collegiate summer baseball leagues in the New England area. In addition to Connor Santoianni playing in Ireland, four other Pride ballplayers signed with summer league ballclubs. They played between 40 and 50 games over a span of eight to nine weeks, competing against players from all over the country and all different levels.
Chad Shade (Pittsfield Suns)
Playing for his hometown, Shade spent the summer in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League (FCBL) with the Suns.
“Obviously playing in my hometown is really fun, and in a really competitive league. Also getting the opportunity to play with BJ (Brian Johnson). Overall, it’s just such a great experience for me. A wide range of guys from all over the country,” he said.
The rising junior slashed .241/.308/.286 with nine RBI over the course of the season. He ranked fifth in the league with 20 stolen bases.
“You definitely see a lot of good pitching; some of the top D-III players around, some D-I guys, some high school kids that are going into college,” Shade said. “At the plate, they are very competitive with the pitches they throw and challenging us as hitters. I think that’s one way I’ve grown is being able to adjust.”
Although Pittsfield was eliminated early in the playoffs, Shade enjoyed everyone he encountered during the summer, especially the diversity of his team.
“We spent so much time together. We played around 50 games during the summer,” he said.
Brian Johnson (Pittsfield Suns)
Johnson teamed up with Shade as Pittsfield featured two of Springfield’s best ballplayers this summer.
“It’s definitely different than school ball. It’s a lot of more games; we play basically every day. The talent level is definitely higher,” Johnson said. “The atmosphere and the stadium is a lot different as well. There’s a thousand, couple thousand people at some of the stadiums, so definitely more excitement. Kids asked for autographs so that was pretty fun.”
The southpaw went 2-3 with a 2.83 ERA (third in the FCBL) in eight starts for the Suns. He allowed two earned runs or fewer in six of those starts while striking out 38 batters in 43.1 innings pitched. Johnson held his opponents to a .205 batting average and a .258 slugging percentage.
“The strike zone is a little bit smaller in the summer and the hitters are better so you have to approach it a little differently,” Johnson said.
After throwing 53.2 innings for the Pride in the spring, there were some concerns that the rising senior could handle a near equal workload in the summer. Although, the results showed otherwise.
“Arm strength-wise in the summer, being able to throw so many innings. I was worried if my body would hold up, but it definitely has,” Johnson said.
Shawn Babineau (Martha’s Vineyard Sharks)
Babineau spent his second summer with Martha’s Vineyard, playing against Shade and Johnson in the FCBL. He went 3-2 with a 3.53 ERA in seven starts and one relief appearance. He struck out 36 hitters in 43.1 innings while issuing just seven walks.
“Just the baseball is a step up from school and I’ve been doing well so it’s been awesome,” he said. “We play against some Wheaton kids and some Babson kids. There’s some pretty good competition. I think all the Division 3 players have done well for themselves.”
Playing against Divison I competition, the southpaw says he learned the value of effectively using his off-speed, and spent the summer polishing his non-fastball pitches.
“I’m throwing 87,88 [miles per-hour] and there’s kids playing Division I baseball that are not used to letting you get away with missing a spot with a fastball. I’ve been using my changeup a lot, adjusting my slider and it looks a little sharper,” Babineau said.
He saved his best stuff for his last outing of the summer, a winner-take-all game three in the postseason. With the season on the line, Babineau threw six shutout innings while allowing just four hits and striking out five.
“I was pitching and in the sixth inning, it was 0-0. I was actually pretty nervous because if we lost the game, we didn’t go to the championship. I got some runners on third a couple times, bases loaded, two outs and I just battled out of it,” he recounted.
Cole Donovan (Winnipesaukee Muskrats)
Donovan pitched for the Muskrats in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Although accumulating an uncharacteristic 5.55 ERA, he tied the league record for most appearances in a season (28). Additionally, he struck out 20 batters in 22.2 innings pitched.
“I definitely learned how pitch a little more. The hitters can really hit, if you miss at all they’re going to take you deep. Just learning how to mix it up and pitch a little better,” Donovan said.
Being able to focus exclusively on baseball for the summer was one of the things the sidearm specialist enjoyed the most.
“It was really awesome to get to play baseball every day. All I did was get up and go to the gym with the team, go back to the house and shower and then go right back to the field. It was really cool to play baseball all the time. It’s something you don’t get to do very often,” Donovan said.
Additionally, the increased level of competition will be a huge benefit come spring season.
“I played with a lot of guys from D1 schools and some were from big D1 schools all over the country. Just meeting a whole new group of people and becoming really close to them,” Donovan said.
Pride baseball made some noise both domestically and internationally this summer. After clinching a spot in the conference tournament last spring for the first time since 2012, Springfield was knocked out in the first round by MIT.
With an abundance of players continuing their seasons with summer ball, the Pride should come back better than ever with hopes to avenge last year’s early exit.