In the Zone

A diverse yet cohesive group, the Northeastern pitching staff finds success by sticking together and filling in each other’s gaps.

By Adam Doucette

The pitchers on the Northeastern baseball team are anxious, but calm. They’re even-keeled, but intense. Friendly, but competitive.

For a position that’s as high-pressure and situational as pitching, having a diverse set of skills and personalities that can synergize together is the mark of a strong staff. It gives the coaches plenty of options for any situation they find themselves in.

In the only major American sport where the defense starts with the ball, the pitcher is the one who controls the game. Because they play such a different role on a baseball team than anyone else, pitchers sometimes feel like a team within the team.

“I think even within the pitching staff, the starters and the bullpen are kind of two separate things,” said Jordy Allard, a graduate transfer and bullpen arm for the Huskies. “I feel like the bullpen guys almost play a different position than starters; they attack differently and have a different mindset than starters.”

At the end of the day, starters and bullpen arms have different jobs to accomplish, which means they need to train and manage their arms differently.

“There are two different roles where the starters are trained and conditioned volume-wise to go five to eight innings once a week as opposed to the bullpen guys who can be used at any time,” said Nick Davis, a redshirt junior. “So, while we’re all pitchers, we definitely all take on a different load and have to adapt to different levels of stress to make it through the entire season.”

Starters and bullpen pitchers not only have different workloads to manage, but also different mindsets and personalities. While any personality can fit any position, there are some pitcher-specific stereotypes.

“I think the starters are generally stereotyped to be a little bit calmer because you need to be able to go with the ups and downs of the game,” said Allard. “If you let up a big hit or the team gets up, you need to be able to calm yourself down and just continually cruise throughout the whole game because you’re expected, as a starter, to get a good chunk of the game for your team so that it doesn’t cut into the bullpen.”

Wyatt Scotti, a sophomore from Barnstable, Massachusetts, fits the bill. “Wyatt is a good example of being very calm and even-keeled throughout the game, and that’s really good for a starter,” Allard said. “It depends on the guy, but it works well for him.”

If the game is close, the pressure increases in the later innings, and the bullpen needs pitchers that match the energy of the game. Both Allard and redshirt sophomore Thomas Balboni fit right in.

“The closer role is an intense and high energy role because it’s to end the game and normally it’s going to be a close game,” said Scotti. “Tom definitely embraces that; he brings a lot of energy, especially in the last inning when things can get a little bit tense.”

On the baseball field, pitchers are in a uniquely high-pressure position, and that can cause anxiety. Outwardly calm and composed, even Scotti still gets nervous before games, something he says has been with him since little league.

“I’ve kind of learned to embrace the nervousness in a way where just because you’re nervous doesn’t mean that’s a bad thing,” Scotti said. “If you know you’ve been preparing all week and you’ve been putting in the work, when it’s your time to throw, you feel like you’re ready to go.”

The nerves are not unique to Scotti, but only starters have the opportunity to prepare all week for a single outing. On one hand, this can be something to fall back on mentally. On the other, it can allow the nerves to build.

“Sometimes that can be the most challenging time mentally,” Scotti said of the hours leading up to a start. “Once I get to the ballpark, it’s completely fine, I’ve done it before. It’s the waiting to go to the ballpark that can be tricky.”

Each player deals with the anxiety in different ways. Many pitchers are creatures of habit and like to have the same routine before they take the mound. They have physical cues set for themselves that can get them settled in. Allard takes a more mental approach.

“I think one of the ways that I cope is I tell myself that I get to feel the pressure, because if I’m not feeling the pressure, that probably means I’m not in the game or I’m not pitching,” he said. “That’s something you get to experience and you can either let that completely destroy you, or you can let that lock you in.”

No matter how they deal with the nerves, all pitchers can agree that once they get past the anxiety and start to pitch well, it’s a feeling you can’t get just anywhere.

“I remember my first college outing, I got butterflies in my stomach like crazy,” Davis said. “But once you learn to work with it and you settle in, it’s a great feeling, especially when things are going your way.”

The fact that pitchers all face a similar pressure when they’re on the mound is a big reason why they feel like their own team within a team. It also brings the whole staff together; only another pitcher knows exactly what it’s like to be out there on the mound with all eyes on you.

“It’s definitely a competitive environment because obviously, in a team environment, not everyone’s going to get to play but everyone wants to,” Davis said. “But I definitely think that we all still support each other. And, obviously, we have a team goal in mind: We want to win.”

“Everyone’s pushing for a spot, wanting a role,” Balboni said. “But you’re always pushing each other to do better. You want them to succeed.”

In college athletics, there is constant turnover. Teams change year to year, with every season bringing something new.

“In my time here, I’ve seen the pitching staff grow so much in terms of its togetherness, but also just general skill and how good we are,” said Davis, now in his fourth year with the team. “It’s one of the best pitching staffs that I’ve personally ever been a part of during my time at Northeastern, which is awesome to see.”

Anxious, and calm. Even-keeled, yet intense. Friendly, and competitive.

This Northeastern staff has all of it. And that’s precisely the reason why it works.