Level-Headed Butera's Coach's Mentality Key In Standout Year
Published: Monday, April 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
It’s Saturday, Mar. 24, and the Boston College baseball team is staring at an opportunity to win its first series against an ACC foe. After being swept by Clemson and Miami on the road to start the season, the Eagles had defeated then-No. 14 Georgia Tech in a 15-7 rout a day earlier and are one hit away from sealing a second win.
Freshman Tyler “Cheese” Hinchliffe just drove in the tying run to even the score at three a piece, and now his classmate Blake Butera is up to bat. Yellow Jacket relief pitcher Alex Cruz only needs one more out to end the inning and leave three Eagles stranded on base.
Butera, a level-headed and collected player both on and off the field, doesn’t have any superstitious ritual before a big at-bat like this.
“I usually just try and get my timing down with the pitcher and look at what he’s trying to do with the hitter in front of me. I just go up there usually with a plan knowing what he’s trying to throw,” he would say weeks after the game.
As he steps up to the plate, Butera isn’t overwhelmed by the pressure of the crowd at Shea Field cheering him on from the ramp and the bleachers.
“You look at the pitcher’s tendencies and know what he’s trying to do. It’s basically just like every other at bat. Just looking for a good pitch to hit and get that base hit for the team,” he said.
Butera battles Cruz to a 2-2 count. After going 3-for-5 the day before, he hasn’t connected with the ball yet today. He’s not the superstitious type, but behind him his older teammates are flipping their hats across the dugout as is customary for the Eagles during big at-bats like this.
Finally, Butera finds his pitch. Cruz leaves a fastball up and away, and the freshman drills it to right field. The dugout clears. Hats fly. Senior Spenser Payne, who was at third, raises his right arm as he heads toward home plate. The Georgia Tech catcher takes off his glove and turns his back in dismay as Payne, with almost the entire BC squad behind him screaming in elation, winds his right knee back and stomps on the plate. Game over.
After Payne reaches home, he takes off his helmet and peeks over at second. The celebration isn’t done. Sophomore Tom Bourdon just came back from second to meet Butera halfway and jumps up as high as he can, knocking shoulders with the clutch freshman. As they both come back to earth, senior captain Anthony Melchionda grabs his young teammate with a huge smile on face. The bullpen has joined in and now Butera is swarmed by his whole team.
“It was awesome,” Butera said. “The greatest feeling ever. Getting a base hit to win it for your team against a great opponent like Georgia Tech, there’s nothing better than that.”
After facing some tough losses during the season, a clutch win against a top-notch conference opponent meant a lot to the first-year Eagle.
“That’s what we work real hard for. For the chances right there at the end of games to come up and help my team out in any way I can.”
A week later against Maryland, Butera got another shot to prove his clutch ability. After a delay due to weather, the Eagles opened up the game on Saturday in the ninth inning. The contest would go until the bottom of the 12th, when Butera came to bat. He had two strikes on him yet again, but remained unfazed. With runners on first and second, Butera came through with the game-winning single to right for the second week in a row.
“I was looking for a good pitch to hit something back through the middle,” Butera said after the game. “I had two strikes on me, so I was looking to go the other way with something.”
After the game, head coach Mike Gambino took some time to brag about his young star, who is already batting second in the Eagle lineup while playing both second base and shortstop.
“He’s a really good hitter anyway, and he does a great job with two strikes,” Gambino said. “That’s his second walk-off hit. It’s not going to be his last. He’s going to have a lot of big hits for us in his career.”
When asked about his play a few weeks after the big win, Butera shied away from boasting about his late-game abilities.
“I wouldn’t say I have a history of it,” Butera said. “I enjoy coming up in big parts of the game and having a chance to deliver and pick my team up.”
Although Butera makes sure to understate his own importance, choosing rather to talk about his teammates and the coaching staff, Gambino won’t downplay Butera’s significance to the squad.