Top Story, Spring

Birdball’s Season Is Over, But The Story Doesn’t Have To Be

People love happy endings. Go see any movie, and Hollywood will make sure you have some feel-good sense of satisfaction before you traipse out of the theater. It’s even truer for sports stories. Ever since David knocked down Goliath with a clutch hurl of a pebble, people have been cheering for the little guy to win it all.

Underdog stories are great, and usually they feel even better than the typical happily-ever-afters. Who doesn’t get goosebumps hearing Al Michaels call “Do you believe in miracles?” Or after seeing Ralph Macchio take down William Zabka with Mr. Miyagi’s crane kick?

The thing is, not all the best stories have happy endings—take Rocky and Moneyball, for instance. Maybe you liked the movies, maybe you loved the movies, but the fact is the protagonists lost. They worked really hard, but in the end they didn’t win it all. And yet, contrary to the old saying, sometimes people remember second place.

Boston College baseball has just the sort of stories that would make for a terrific movie. They’re not like those David-Goliath-type underdog stories where the small program overcomes all odds to win the championship. BC will not be playing in any tournament this season—the final hope for an ACC Tournament berth ended last Thursday at Shea Field, when Notre Dame tagged an uncharacteristically shaky Mike King for seven earned runs in just 4 1/3 innings in a 10-4 defeat. Although that was where BC’s hopes officially dissipated, you can trace the lost playoff back a couple weeks earlier to a three-game set against Virginia Tech.

Birdball, hanging on the fringe of contention and still holding a postseason fate in its own hands, dropped all three games by a combined six runs, including a 2-1 heartbreaker in the finale, when Justin Dunn, entering in for the save, allowed a walk and a walkoff two-run home run. The chance to avoid a sweep and remain on the tournament bubble disappeared with four balls and one strike that caught just a little too much of the plate.

You could even go back another week and look at BC’s series against No. 23 North Carolina, in which the Eagles mustered only one run without Chris Shaw, the heart of the Eagles’ order. Look back at the first month or so of the season, where BC had to face powerhouses Louisiana State, Florida State, and Louisville. In those nine games, BC suffered nine losses.

Perhaps the most significant turning point was one about which BC had no control. On Apr. 18, exactly a month ago, Birdball announced injuries to Shaw and Jeff Burke. Suddenly, BC had lost its most dependable starter for the season and its most dependable hitter for several weeks—and this just one day after it had picked up a 1-0 win over No. 24 Georgia Tech.

BC’s response? Win the next two games and sweep a ranked team.

The Eagles’ offense combined for 10 runs in those games against the Yellow Jackets, while the staff allowed just one run. A Beanpot win over Massachusetts at Fenway later that week had BC glowing even brighter. Yet eight straight conference losses later, the light had all but gone out on BC’s season.

From that darkness, though, more stories emerged.

First there’s Shaw, whose hamate bone injury was scheduled to keep him on the bench for four to six weeks. Shaw returned after just 18 days, picking up a pinch-hit single in his first at bat against Virginia Tech. Head coach Mike Gambino said that the team had made sure not to rush Shaw back before he was ready, and he only returned to the lineup once the risk of further injury had passed.

“Chris Shaw, 50, 60, 70, 80 percent, it’s still better than most hitters in the country,” Gambino said. “A kid that means so much to the team and to this program, when he looks at me and says, ‘I can deal with the pain, I wanna play, I wanna help this team win’ … I’m going to put him out there. He’s earned that right.”

Shaw hasn’t been the only one to fight through an injury this season. After having a rough four-inning start against Rhode Island, senior left-hander Nick Poore had a sprain in his UCL—an injury that would normally end a season.

“If Nick Poore is a freshman, sophomore, junior, he doesn’t pitch again [this year],” Gambino said.

The team shut him down for a couple weeks to allow it to start healing. Then, last weekend, Poore asked Gambino for one more outing. Unlike Burke, who could be a future prospect, Poore knows he will not enter into professional baseball. He will never pitch again after college.

With that in mind, Poore’s doctor gave him consent to go. There was still the risk he could hurt or even blow out his arm, but he wanted to take the mound for BC one last time.

“He knows he had one more chance to pitch,” Gambino said. “If he doesn’t get hurt doing it, great. If he gets hurt doing it, at least he took a shot.”

Finally, in the last game of the season, Poore got his chance. With BC down two going into the ninth against Notre Dame, Gambino called on the lefty, who notched a nifty 1-2-3 inning. In the bottom half, Birdball rallied, scoring two to tie the game. Poore shut down the Irish again in the 10th, and when the Eagles picked up a walk-off hit from fellow senior Nick Colucci, Poore was awarded the win—a final decision in his final baseball outing.

If there’s one more comeback story on this team, it’s Johnny Adams, a sophomore from Walpole, Mass. Adams hit .147 in conference play in 2014, and hung well below the Mendoza line for much of this season, yet thanks to his slick fielding skills at short, was one of just two players for BC to start all 54 games (the other was center fielder Michael Strem). In the final month and a half of the season, however, Adams found his groove, eventually boosting his average up to a decent .240.

In the 10th inning against Notre Dame, there may have been no one more fitting to step up to the plate to start the inning. Adams drew a walk, advanced to second on a passed ball, and moved to third on a Stephen Sauter sacrifice before being driven in by Colucci. And yet, it may have been the moments just before and just after Adams touched home that were most special.

As Adams neared the plate, he pointed out toward right field, where Colucci was rounding first. After Adams crossed, he turned and kept on running in that direction, leading the mob of gold-clad Birdballers out to congratulate Colucci, not himself, between first and second. This game had meant nothing for the playoffs, but for the family that is BC baseball, it was a beautiful ending.

So you can feel sad for the disappointing ending of a missed playoff berth, or you can take satisfaction in the smaller, more personal victories before the end. Or you could be in a different school of thought entirely—that whether an ending is happy simply depends on when you stop telling the story. For some, maybe that’s now. For some, maybe it’s next season. For Gambino, his ideal movie won’t be having a single glorious ending anytime soon.

“I don’t want to be a team that just gets there once and goes away,” he said. “We talk about building a program that can sustain it. It never comes as quickly as you want, but that’s sort of the long-term vision and planning and thinking that has been going on here. And like I said, we’re getting there.”

There are certainly changes coming for BC baseball. Senior captains Blake Butera and John Gorman are graduating, while the MLB Draft could steal away Shaw or others. But still, consider  holding off on rolling the credits right now. A happy ending might not be around the corner, but there are surely more good stories to come.

Featured Image by Daniella Fasciano / Heights Editor

May 18, 2015

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