Dream Decision

On June 5, 2019, No. 8 North Andover High School took on No. 1 Franklin in the first round of the Super Eight baseball tournament in Massachusetts. It was North Andover’s first ever appearance in the prestigious bracket. Their starting pitcher, a quiet, lanky kid standing at 6’3”, was only trying to get his arm loose.

In his way, however, stood a slew of reporters, shoving microphones in his face. His coach, growing angrier at every missed warm-up pitch, begged the media to save their questions until the game ended. After all, the questions weren’t about the upcoming game. The pitcher didn’t want to cause a scene, so he politely answered a few questions before returning to his bullpen session.

He had to focus on the championship game coming up, not the fact that he had just been selected by his hometown Boston Red Sox in the 11th round of the 2019 MLB Draft, or that he had to decide between his dream of attending college at Northeastern University and his dream of playing professional baseball. For now, Sebastian Keane had a job to do.

“It was crazy, that day. I was sitting on my couch and my agent called me and he said, ‘Sebastian, the Red Sox want to draft you in the 11th round’. I was sitting there with my friend, and my parents are both at work,” recalled Keane. “It was the 10th round and I waited for the 11th. And finally it said, ‘Red Sox select draft number’, they give me an ID number, and they say ‘Sebastian Keane’.

  “It’s just, you work so hard and for that to happen, it was nuts. But then that day, I was pitching against the number one team in the Super Eight state championship. We ended up doing really well.”

Keane understated his performance. With about 2,000 onlookers in the crowd, including personnel from the Red Sox, the righthander showed everyone what made him the 2019 Gatorade Player of the Year in his home state. 

An easy leg kick, a three-quarters arm slot and a smooth delivery. A blink of an eye, a pop in the catcher’s mitt and a punchout.

This was a familiar scene not only for Franklin hitters that day, but for any hitter unlucky enough to play North Andover High School when Sebastian Keane was scheduled to start. After a 7.1-inning, nine-strikeout, shutout performance from their ace, the Scarlet Knights celebrated the first time an eighth-seed had upset the top seed in the tournament’s six-year history.

It was Keane’s athletic, fluid mechanics that caught the eye of Northeastern baseball head coach Mike Glavine when the team held its annual winter prospect camp a year and a half ago. Invited on the recommendation of his summer league coach, Keane arrived on Huntington Avenue during his junior year of high school.

“He just really impressed us that day in January, and so we just had a really great evaluation of him,” Glavine said. “He was 86 [miles per hour] at that time, maybe 87. We certainly didn’t think he was going to be up to 95, but we knew that he had some upside there. All the physical stuff, we just liked everything about him on the mound and what he did. Then we had a chance to meet with him and his family on an unofficial visit. And I think we just really connected.”

Before long, Keane had expressed a verbal commitment to attend Northeastern University after graduating from North Andover.

Keane’s first taste of MLB scouting came during his sophomore summer in 2017. Playing at the Area Code Underclass Games in California with some of the country’s top amateur talent, there were roughly 70 radar guns pointed at him as he delivered each pitch. However, it wasn’t until his junior year that Keane would be considered a high-end draft prospect. 

It’s not often that high schoolers from the Northeast make their way into the upper echelon of scouts’ draft boards. Unlike warmer regions, the climate makes it nearly impossible to compete year-round. 

Emphasis on nearly.

“You have to do anything you can. I’ll be in December going to my high school field, and I have to shovel off [the snow on] the turf to do long toss,” Keane said. “I mean, it’s a grind but that’s just what you have to do. Like winter clothing, winter gloves, that’s just what it’s like living in the Northeast. I definitely think it makes you tougher.”

But as the weather finally began to heat up in 2018, so did his recognition. 

Greater exposure to the allure of professional baseball threw a curveball in the recruiting process even sharper than the one coming out of Keane’s hand.

“It was tricky; he really blew up and emerged that summer on a national basis,” Glavine said. “So with him, it was just making sure he knew that we had a plan for him here and that we were going to take care of him. We were going to be able to develop him and do all the things that he needs to be the best pitcher he can be.”

With a fresh arm and a dream of playing professional baseball growing ever closer, Keane handled the increased attention in his usual style – let the pitching do the talking. He would light up the radar guns at 95 miles-per-hour, dusting opposing hitters with a three-pitch arsenal that also featured a tight breaking ball and a developing changeup.

“Every time you see scouts behind home plate, you get butterflies,” Keane admitted. “But it’s good butterflies; you feel good. Your adrenaline’s bumping, you have to do well.”

The teenager’s competitive spirit wasn’t lost on his coach at North Andover, Todd Dulin, either.

“I think he relished the attention and having the scouts there. It got him all amped up,” Dulin said. “I think he pitched better when there were people there watching him. Really. He really focused and glued in and had a way of… I don’t know, I think he enjoyed it.”

Perhaps that explained Keane’s senior year performance: 65 innings pitched, 120 strikeouts, only seven earned runs. Every time the righty took the mound, the scouts would flock. Every time, they left impressed.

By the time the MLB Draft rolled around in early June, Keane was ranked the 140th overall draft prospect by MLB.com. He had been fielding calls from teams interested in drafting him as high as the second round.

Ultimately, the righthander set a high price to lure him away from Northeastern. Several top high school amateurs like Keane fall in the draft every year as teams shy away from their asking price on signing bonuses. These players usually wind up forgoing their lower-than-expected draft slot in favor of attending college. Three years later, they are once again draft eligible, this time with a refined skill set from their college days. This is the path that several current MLB stars took, such as Alex Bregman, Gerrit Cole and Kris Bryant.

Largely motivated by these financial reasons, Keane slipped to the 11th round, where the Red Sox took the gamble of landing a second-round talent in the later rounds.

The hometown franchise put together a convincing marketing effort in an attempt to sway Keane’s Northeastern commitment. First, a meal with Hall of Fame manager and then-Red Sox executive, Tony La Russa.

“We went to this really nice restaurant,” Keane remembered. “It was nuts seeing him in person and getting to talk to him about baseball – he lives and breathes baseball.”

Next up, a meeting with Red Sox legend and one of the most accomplished pitchers of all-time, Pedro Martinez.

“I was with Pedro Martinez and my dad for like an hour and 10 minutes, and I couldn’t stop smiling the whole entire time,” Keane said. “He was like, ‘If you sign with the Red Sox, I’ll be your pitching coach at Spring Training.’ It was insane, I got a picture with him and everything. He said if I want to hang out with him to let him know because he lives like 30 minutes from me.”

Despite the unforgettable experiences, with the support of his parents, Keane decided to honor his commitment to Northeastern and enroll.

“I just thought it wasn’t enough money for me and my family – I want to go to college,” Keane said. “I think I’ll develop more in college: mature as a person and on and off the field.”

To Glavine, it was music to his ears, and a long-awaited end to the recruitment stress.

“We thought for sure he could sign,” Glavine said. “I know when I got the the text that he was definitely officially coming to Northeastern, it was a great feeling.”

Throughout the recruitment, however, his message to Keane remained the same.

“I maintained the same thought process with him and his family all along,” he said. “And that was if he got the number that he was looking for, to sign to play professional baseball, that I would drive him to the airport.”

At Northeastern, Keane will have the chance to make an impact immediately on the reigning CAA regular-season champs. He didn’t waste any time starting his academic career, enrolling in summer classes while simultaneously playing for the North Shore Navigators in the Futures Collegiate Baseball League.

“I would be here from Monday to Thursday, take the train home on Thursday, have summer ball Friday and Saturday,” Keane said. “Then I get a day off and come back.”

“He’s the one that approached me about classes; I didn’t approach him,” Glavine said. “I was excited when he wanted to do that, we thought it was a no brainer, a great chance for him to get started here in college.”

With a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic that tends to embody the type of player Glavine recruits, Keane fits right in on the Northeastern squad.

And unsurprisingly, he has February 21, 2020 circled on his calendar: the Huskies’ annual tradition of heading down to Florida Spring Training to take on none other than the Boston Red Sox.

Photo courtesy North Shore Navigators