The Trials and Triumphs of Competing in New England
By Justin Chen
Boston loves the Red Sox, but Boston is not a good place for college baseball.
Baseball is an outdoor sport and Boston is not a place where the weather is nice, especially during the precious few months of collegiate baseball. The crippling cold makes it impossible to practice outdoors for months.
But if you looked at head coach Mike Glavine and his team, you would never know it.
Northeastern’s baseball team has stood up against many forms of adversity to create a special team. And with the help of some old-fashion grit, this team has forged a winning culture and looks to make a run at the CAA title every season.
What makes this team different than most is how the majority of the players – 20 out of 35 – are from Massachusetts, with many more from neighboring New England states.
“It is definitely by design,” Glavine said. “It allows us to see them play multiple times [since they are so close] and you don’t have to make a one time judgment [since] you see them play many times so that’s really helpful to make us feel better about our evaluations.”
That is crucial for any team playing at the level the Huskies are – finishing with a winning record in four of their last five seasons, as well as a trip to a College Baseball World Series regional in 2018.
For a New England team, these accomplishments mean even more. They all have a common opponent – the winter. Unlike their southern collegiate counterparts who have relatively good weather all year, college teams in New England have to face the elements with little to no flexibility around them. Northeastern is only able to practice at Parsons Field during the fall semester and moves indoors to the Cabot Cage from November to February.
Glavine noted that his New England players are used to this weather and alternative training. But for the others, it’s a culture shock.
Matt Lord, a freshman infielder hailing from Naples, Florida, said he had to adapt on the fly. Growing up in a warm climate, Lord was able to practice outdoors on a field year round, so spending months indoors was entirely new to him.
“The main thing is to get as many practices as I could in [in the winter] and the more you do it, the more used to it you get,” Lord said.
There is an infield set up in Cabot, but there are still many differences between that and a real field. The area behind second base is cramped. The lighting is far from the same. The ball bounces differently and unpredictably on the indoor turf. While the outfielders get busy with footwork, throwing accuracy, and extra batting practice, it is not until before their first game of the season where they practice fielding fly balls again.
The team has turned to an unlikely hero to combat the elements: technology. Baseball is one of the most analytical sports, with plenty of equipment capturing advanced performance statistics, like exit velocity, pitch spin rates, and even generating spray charts. Northeastern has implemented technology that professionals use, putting them in the upper echelon of college teams in this department. Glavine said this allows players to see progress despite being indoors, and even compare themselves to major leaguers.
Junior infielder Ian Fair also praises the use of technology, as it helps him see how he is hitting the ball, whether it is solid contact or just a lazy fly ball. The Rapsodo, one of the measurement devices the team uses, is like an “equalizer,” he describes.
“It makes it seem like we’re actually playing outside even when it’s cold and we’re inside,” Fair said.
Freshman pitcher Cam Schlittler said he likes how the data is able to let him see if he needs to put more spin or create more break on his pitches as he crafts his arsenal.
“[The Rapsodo] shows us if we hit our spots or not and then it gives a spin rate and everything,” Schlittler said. “We can find out [everything] from the computer and I think it’s really helpful if we need to adjust our pitches. It’s very important for a pitcher to have access to everything you’re doing when you’re throwing a bullpen. It really helps us adjust to the [winter climate] situation, and we can improve our pitching.”
Senior outfielder Kyle Peterson, who grew up in Brockton, Mass, got the chance to observe up close how growing up practicing in this challenging environment has shaped himself and other New England ballplayers when he played for his hometown Brockton Rox in the Futures Summer Collegiate Baseball League following his freshman season three years ago.
“You go in and you’re playing with kids from California, Florida, all the way up the East Coast,” Peterson described. “Everyone plays differently… people on the West Coast might have a bit more flashiness, as opposed to people in New England might be more gritty,”
Glavine, during his playing days at NU as well in the minor and major leagues, would make it a habit to learn from his different experiences in different parts of the country, something he imparts to his team today.
“It’s great for our players to experience that over the summer, because they can learn and they can pick and choose… and bring things back to (Northeastern) that we can use,” Glavine said. “I like to learn and see what other programs are doing so it’s important for me to listen to our players [and what they have learned].”
A side effect of playing in a bad spring weather city is the inability to host baseball games during the beginning of the college season. This means, that of all the athletic teams, baseball ends up missing the most amount of time in the classroom, often missing full weeks of classes to play multiple series or in tournaments in other regions of the US. A difficult environment, as noted by Schlittler.
“It’s a struggle to have two jobs to do,” Schlittler said. “In high school there wasn’t much of an overlay [between school and baseball]. As a freshman group it was pretty hard for everyone because it’s hard to adjust to having two [responsibilities].”
The upperclassmen have done their part to help the youngsters transition into this new athletic and academic environment. Highlighted by the mental and physical toughness, knack for overcoming adversity, and, most importantly, the love of baseball, Northeastern has developed into one of the top teams in the CAA.
“We’re used to bad weather, we’re used to [limited] facilities,” Fair summarized. “We don’t really make excuses, we just go out there and play.”