On February, 20, 2009, the University of Vermont athletic department decided to cut the baseball and softball programs that had held a rich tradition in the fabric of Vermont due to budgetary cuts deemed essential by the college. Baseball, specifically, had a long and proud tradition at the University of Vermont as its first season began in 1888 with an 11-1 record under the direction of A.L Kennedy. On April 17, 1906, the Catamounts played the first ever baseball game at a new ballpark, Centennial Field, when the University of Vermont defeated the University of Maine, 10-4. Centennial Field has hosted several local area high school and youth games and has been home to many minor league baseball teams in the summer. Currently it hosts the Vermont Lake Monsters (Single-A Affiliate of the Washington Nationals).
A BRIEF HISTORY
Other than brief gaps of seasons without Varsity baseball in 1918, 1943-45, and a five year lapse during 1972-1977, the University of Vermont had been playing Varsity Baseball at the Division 1 collegiate level. Over the 112 year span of Vermont Baseball, the Catamounts amassed a 1507-1339 record, reaching the NCAA Tournament three times in 1956, 1962, and 1965. The Catamounts had had recent success as the Regular Season Champions of the America East in 2003, and 2006.
During the 112 year tenure there have been several Catamounts who have gone on to play in the minor leagues. Out of these players, 10 have been lucky enough to play in the Major Leagues, most recently Kirk McCaskill (’83) who played for the California Angels and Chicago White Sox between 1985-1995 where he played in 380 games with a career 106-108 record and a combined 4.12 era.
All these historical facts of tradition and importance concerning the baseball program at the University of Vermont are now, in fact, history. After the public outcry of many local Vermonters, angered parents of University of Vermont Baseball/Softball players, and Little League/High School athletes who dreamed of playing at a Division 1 program in their home state, the decision to eliminate the baseball program stood as the team played its final game at Centennial Field on Tuesday May 12, 2009 against Bryant University.
The Catamounts finished the 2009 season with a 23-33 overall record, going 14-10 in the America East. The final edition of the Vermont Baseball Catamounts bolstered a roster of several talented players who were unable to complete their four-year tenure at the University of Vermont. Of these players, four whose careers at Vermont were cut short were named to All-Conference honors, including Mark Micowski and Justin Milo (Second Team All-Conference), Mike McCarthy (All-Rookie Team), and most notably Matt Duffy who was named to the All-Conference First Team, and took the Len Harlow America East Player of the Year Award as a sophomore.
In 2010, there technically are no University of Vermont Varsity Baseball players competing for the college, but there are Catamounts who are playing and thriving at other universities. So, out of the 22 underclassmen who would have been eligible to play baseball next year at the University of Vermont, where did they end up? I was able to catch up with several players over the past few weeks and have learned a great deal about their success on the field as they have carried on with their careers after the nightmare that was bestowed upon them last February.
A COUPLE OF VOLUNTEERS
The hard hitting, Len Harlow America East Player of the Year Award winner from 2009 didn’t take long to find a new home after Vermont eliminated baseball following his breakout sophomore season. Matt Duffy, the former Vermont Catamount standout from Milton, Mass, decided on the University of Tennessee after he visited Knoxville last year when he was forced to play collegiate baseball elsewhere. The highly-touted shortstop had a handful of offers including the likes of Virginia Tech and Auburn after other schools became aware of his availability due to the termination of baseball at Vermont.
Since arriving in Knoxville, Duffy has immediately noticed a drastic change in his experiences on and off the field. “A big difference down here is the weather for obvious reasons, (on the field) the competition is a lot better down in the SEC. You see better pitching and more experienced baseball players every day.”
Duffy has continued to thrive in a superior conference down south facing better pitching. With an elevated level of competition playing against the best athlete’s college baseball has to offer, Matt has continued to put up impressive statistics. As of May 8th, he has started in 44 of the teams 47 games, and currently leads the team in doubles (15), while ranking 2nd on the team in both batting average (.325) and hits (55). In addition, Duffy has also contributed 4 home runs, and 36 RBIs. “I loved the school, and I loved playing baseball in Vermont, but as a competitor you always want to compete and play with the best, so coming down to the SEC definitely has been a blessing in disguise,” Duffy said about leaving the small pond of the America East and putting up big numbers in a big time conference thus far.
Duffy isn’t the only former Catamount in Knoxville competing in the SEC. Bill Currier, former head coach of the University of Vermont for the final 22 seasons (486-470 overall record), joined the coaching staff at Tennessee as a volunteer assistant coach. “My responsibilities here are with the outfielders and hitters…I help in researching the next opponent so we may be better prepared for their ‘tendencies.’ I enjoy the individual work with the players that I haven’t had the opportunity to have as a head coach, where I had to oversee two assistants and many functions of the overall team,” Currier told me of his duties with the Volunteers.
Currier hasn’t had a hard time as a coach adjusting to the bigger school and SEC conference, “Coaching is the same no matter what level in college you are coaching. The responsibilities are different however. At UT we really have a seven-man staff if you count the manager assistants, the strength coach, and two student equipment workers who set up and tear down practice needs… here we do more scouting of our opponents than in smaller schools with the added staff (compared to Vermont),” Currier added.
Duffy and Currier have continued their player/coach bond, although it has changed a bit as Currier’s main coaching focus does not concern working with Duffy’s position. “Having Matt Duffy here is nice, but I don’t have very much to do with him as he plays third base and I primarily deal with the outfielders. We still ofcourse have the close bond ……especially after going through such a difficult situation last spring together. We do catch up with each other on ex-teammates and friends of Matt’s and how they are doing with their new teams.”
While Duffy doesn’t work exclusively with Coach Currier on all facets of his game, Matt still recognizes the value of having his old coach around. “It helps because he is someone I can talk to, and I spent two years with him so I understand him as a coach. He is also already familiar with me so he may see some things I may need to do to change my swing and improve, so not only does it help me in particular, but it helps everyone else in the coaching staff as well.”
Currier and Duffy are hoping to lead the Volunteers into the SEC Tournament which accepts 8-teams from its 12-team, two division conference. Tennessee currently sits in 4th place in the Eastern Division of the SEC at 10-13 (26-21 overall) holding onto the 8th playoff seed overall for the conference tournament.
A TRIO OF MINUTEMEN
Another group of players who departed the 2009 Catamounts also travelled in a pack to a new destination. Eric Fredette, a junior second basemen, and pitchers Ben Hart and Leif Sorenson (both sophomores) have enjoyed the transition to another Northeast school as they have been competing at UMass-Amherst. UMass-Amherst also has local ties to the University of Vermont as their current head coach Mike Stone, who is in his 23rd season, coached at UVM from 1983-1987.
The trio admits that having familiar faces has made the transition to a new school much easier. “Having Freddy and Ben here definitely helped the transition process. Knowing that they were going to UMass too definitely influenced my decision to go there. I knew a few of the guys on the team already from summer ball, but having Fred and Ben on the team helped because I had already played a full spring schedule with them,” Sorenson said on the selection process.
Fredette, who was the first to commit to UMass added, “When I heard from Leif that he and Ben were also going to join me at UMass I was relieved and excited that I would know at least two people to make the transition with. Not only did that make the transition smoother, but there was a lot of comfort knowing they were going through the same process. With the help of Coach Stone and the assistants, they made me feel welcomed and part of the team instantly.”
Sorenson has been successful in 2010 for the Minutemen as the team’s closer. As of May 8th, he currently leads the team in 4 pitching categories: appearances (16), saves (4), ERA (3.55), and batting average against (.273). He boasts a record of 2-1 and his 4 saves also ranks fourth in the Atlantic-10 Conference. He has only allowed a single earned run in 15.0 innings of Atlantic-10 play.
“I wasn’t specifically told that I was going to be closing the whole year. I just have had some opportunities to close out some games and I have been successful thus far. I am throwing more strikes this year and am keeping the ball down more. I struggled doing those two things last year. Coach Sweeney has helped me make a few adjustments in order to keep the ball down and throw strikes. My ball seems to have more sink this year which allows me to get groundballs and keep the ball in the park,” Sorenson told us about his new role with UMass late in games.
Hart is a valued member of the pitching staff who has a more limited role contributing in the bullpen. The sophomore has enjoyed his time as a Minuteman this year, “My role has changed in some ways since coming over from Vermont. I feel like I am definitely being used more which is always nice. I feel that UMass is a good fit for me,” said Hart.
Hart has appeared in 7 games without a decision, pitching in 14.2 innings and is learning quickly in a more competitive league. “I have grown a lot as a player…I feel that the Atlantic 10 is a better league than the America East so I feel that last year prepared me for this year. Also, Coach Stone does a great job preparing his players physically for the season through conditioning and baseball related workouts,” said Hart of his experience.
Out of the three former Catamounts at UMass, Eric Fredette has put up the most impressive numbers. Fredette, who in 2 years at Vermont had only appeared in 50 games with a career batting average of .197 (24h-122ab), is giving Atlantic-10 pitchers fits in 2010. He is currently hitting .403, which is a team best and is good for 4th in the Atlantic-10. He also ranks 11th on the Atlantic-10 League Leaders list for on-base percentage (.466), which is also a team high. In addition, he leads the Minutemen in hits (62), walks (16), and sac bunts (7), as he has started in every game this season for UMass.
Fredette just recently had the team’s longest active hitting streak snapped at 16 games on May 4th against Holy Cross when he went 0-3. “To be honest, I really do not follow my personal statistics and would not even know a lot of these numbers if I did not hear them from others. My core focus is mainly based on a game to game basis, and trying not to get too ahead of myself is vital,” Fredette told us during the streak. Since going hitless on May 4th, he has started a new streak, recording a hit in each of his last 3 games for the Minutemen.
Fredette and teammates are focusing their energy to get one of the final playoff spots in the Atlantic-10 Tournament as the season winds down. In the 14-team league, 6 make playoffs as the Minutemen are 10-10 (15-23 overall) tied for 8th place, sitting one game behind Fordham, St. Louis, and Xavier, who are all tied for 5th place at 11-9 in the conference.
“Right now I am focusing all my energy on finishing up the season strong and helping my team achieve its goal of making the Atlantic-10 Tournament. Once we get in the tournament we know we are capable of competing with the best teams in the league and are confident we can earn a spot to the NCAA’s,” Fredette said on the Minutemen’s playoff push.
The trio of Ben Hart, Leif Sorenson, and Eric Fredette seem to be doing well coming from Vermont to UMass. Hopefully, these three can help another trio from Vermont (Essex High seniors Adam Picard, Dylan Begin, and Aaron Plunkett) transition to Amherst in 2011 when the Hornets stars invade their campus.
THE JOURNEY BACK HOME
Corey Moylan’s journey out of Vermont has taken him closer to home at Butler University much like the trio who found themselves at UMass. Moylan’s story of success is extremely impressive considering the beginning of his career in Vermont when he didn’t even know if he would have a chance to play at all. Moylan came to Vermont as a player without a scholarship to play on the baseball team. An outfielder, at 6’2 175lbs, Moylan came to coach Currier looking to earn his position on the team as a walk on. The Glenview, Illinois native had his talent recognized by the Vermont coaching staff as he was able to earn his spot on the roster. Moylan took the opportunity to play baseball as a walk on and seized it. Through hard work, he not only earned a spot on the team his freshmen year, Moylan saw time in 16 games, hitting .259 with a pair of home runs.
Having planted a seed in the coaching staff that Moylan could play, he worked harder between his freshmen and sophomore years earning himself a starting role in 2009. Again, Moylan seized this opportunity by hitting .312 with 4 home runs and 32 RBIs. Being given an opportunity to play at Vermont made things especially hard for Moylan when he found out that he’d have to find somewhere else to play come 2010. “Leaving Vermont and the baseball program was one of
the toughest things I had ever had to do, just because I had enjoyed it there so much. I had worked so hard my freshman year to make the team as a walk on and by my sophomore year I had gained a starting position. I was forced to leave behind so many memories with my teammates and friends which I may never be able to relive. Also, I had to leave behind a great coaching staff, especially Coach Currier who gave me the chance to play for him,” Moylan said on his time at Vermont.
Through Moylan’s time at Vermont, he had proved that he had the ability to be a good collegiate baseball player. Having to start the college search again to find a new baseball home, Moylan was fortunate, as other colleges had knowledge of his immense talent as well as his need to transfer. “When news hit of our team’s termination, I immediately began contacting numerous Midwest colleges which I had interest attending as a senior in high school. Fortunately, Butler was one of the first schools to contact me with an incentive to make an immediate impact on the team.”
Now at Butler, Moylan is sizzling at the plate. Through May 8th, Moylan has started all 40 games for the Bulldogs, hitting .345 with 3 home runs and 34 RBIs. He ranks 3rd in walks in the Horizon League (26) and is 10th in on base percentage at .449. The Bulldogs who are fighting to stay in the middle of the pack in the Horizon and are currently 17-23 overall.
While Moylan was sad to leave Vermont, he is enjoying his time at Butler and has continued to build upon the success he had in Burlington. “In such a small school like Butler where everyone knows who you are, I have been for the most part proud to say I am a Butler athlete. It has not only been a real exciting time to be an athlete here, especially seeing the basketball team compete for a national championship, but the success of basketball has really put the whole Butler athletics program on the nationwide map.”
THE RECORD BREAKER
A former Catamount who has traveled far from home is Haddam, Connecticut’s Mark Micowski. Micowski, who was selected to Second-Team All-Conference honors in the America East last season with his .365 batting average (2nd on the team, 5th in America East), 28 stolen bases (1st on the team, 2nd in America East), and 80 hits (1st on the team and America East) was an easy sell to schools he was looking to transfer to.
The 6’2, 175lb outfielder is currently playing at Georgia State University in the CAA, which is over 1000 miles from his home in Connecticut and is even further from Burlington. “It has definitely been difficult at times for me this year. I loved being close to home and near my family. This was a choice I made to hopefully better my career and education. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices to get the things you want in the long run,” Micowski said of adjusting to life down south.
Micowski has continued his hot hitting and has embraced playing in Atlanta. “I pretty much came into my new situation trying to be the same player I was at Vermont. I was going to be the person I was, try to lead and prove to others what I can do on and off the field. I tried to be as positive as possible and see it as a challenge in life that I could only make better.”
The junior has proved to many in the country what he can do on the field, as Micowski is enjoying his best season at the Division 1 level in 2010 with Georgia State and has faced his challenges with ease. On March 7th, Micowski garnered national honors as he was selected the NCBWA National Player of the Week. During the week that he was selected, Micowski’s Panthers were 4-1 under his leadership, as he batted .636 (14-for-22), with 14 runs scored, two home runs, 10 RBIs, 27 total bases, five doubles, one triple, a 1.227 slugging percentage, .679 on base percentage and a pair of steals.
On March 5th, Micowski hit for the cycle in the first four innings in a game against North Carolina Central. During the game, Mark set a single game school record in two categories, hits (7) and at-bats (8), and tied the record for single game doubles (3) and total bases (15). Later in the series on March 7th, also against North Carolina Central, he was able to tie the single game record for runs scored with 6.
As of May 8th, Micowski is a league leader in three CAA categories. He is 4th in runs scored (59), 7th in hits (75), and is 5th in batting average as he is scorching at the plate hitting .405. “I feel as though I matured a lot from last year to this year. I believe I am at a point where I take one at bat at a time and don’t become stressed when I make an out,” Micowski said of his success.
With all of the awards and records Micowski has set, he is still not satisfied and is hungry to help his team succeed. “I think it definitely weighs on me (the awards and records) because I always strive to be the best, but most importantly, if my team is winning, I am happy.”
With the Panthers currently second in the standings in the CAA, poised to grab one of the 4 playoff spots, Micowski is certainly helping his team achieve its goal of a CAA title. “As the lead-off hitter, I think what when I get on base, it gets everyone else in the line-up going. We have a lot of very good hitters on this team so I know if I do my job, it will help the rest of the team accomplish our goals.”
LEAVING THE GREEN MOUNTAIN STATE
Perhaps the toughest journey belongs to one of the three native Vermonters, Ethan Paquette, who was forced to make the tough decision of staying in their home state, or transferring to a new school. Paquette hails from West Burke, Vermont and played his high school baseball at St. Johnsbury Academy where he was named the Vermont Gatorade and Louisville Slugger Player of the Year, and in 2006 won the Vermont Division 1 State Championship 2-0 against South Burlington.
Paquette, who was selected to the America East All-Rookie Team in 2007 with Vermont, was also chosen as a captain in his final season as a Catamount. The power hitting first-basemen finished 2009 second on the team in home runs (8) and RBIs (46) to America East Player of the Year Matt Duffy.
With one year of eligibility remaining, Paquette decided to take his skills out of Vermont as he was able to find a new team in Hempstead, NY with the Hofstra Pride from the Colonial Athletic Association. Paquette is now experiencing a new environment away from life in Vermont, and being in a new state is certainly not hurting his baseball performance. “The adjustment has been gradual, but I am at the point now where I feel good about where I am playing and who I am playing for,” Paquette said about competing at Hofstra.
Paquette found himself at Hofstra due to connections he made while playing summer ball, “I developed a relationship with John Russo while playing for the Vermont Mountaineers. He is Hofstra’s assistant coach, so he gave me a look.”
It is a good thing Russo helped Paquette get onto the Hofstra roster as this year, Paquette is having the best statistical season of his career at the Division 1 level in the CAA. Through May 8th, he has started all 42 games and is 3rd on the team in hitting at .352 while leading the team in both home runs (12) and RBIs (62). He is a league leader in 5 CAA hitting categories including, 3rd in RBIs (62) and home runs (12), 6th in doubles (17), 9th in total bases (110), and 11th in slugging percentage (.643).
Paquette has single handedly won the Pride a few games this season with his hitting, most notably during a game where he set a Hofstra single-game record when he recorded 9RBI’s against New York Tech after going 4-6 with 2 home runs (a grand slam and 3-run shot). This weekend, Paquette also cracked the Hofstra all-time single season top-10 home run list after hitting his 11th-12th of the season. Paquette attributes patience to his success at the plate this season for the Pride, “I’m just trying to keep things simple. I’m looking for pitches to drive and I have been getting the opportunity to see those pitches.”
With his career coming to an end, Paquette is focusing on getting Hofstra into the CAA playoffs. In the 11 team league, the Pride are currently ranked 5th, on the outside looking in as only 4-teams make the playoffs. “I’m just thinking about this year being the end of my college career. I am trying to enjoy every moment because I know in a few weeks it will be over.”
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
Now that we have caught up with several players who would have returned to the University of Vermont Baseball team for the 2010 season, it is safe to say that the team had plenty of talent coming in. Would they have won the America East? We’ll never know, but for the next few years, each time we watch these players compete at their new schools, fans of Vermont Baseball will only be able to think about what could have been, and what we are missing as fans.
Notes: While this article outlined a few of the former University of Vermont Catamount baseball players from the 2009 roster, here is a list of all the others who transferred (and the 3 graduating seniors who are playing in the Minor Leagues).
|Mike McCarthy||UTexas Pan American||Great West (Division 1)|
|Harry Glynne||Central Connecticut State||Northeast (Division 1)|
|Gavin McCullough||Fairfield||MAAC (Division 1)|
|Dave Soltis||Bryant||Northeast (Division 1)|
|Greg Lutton||Albany||America East (Division 1)|
|James Katsiroubas||UMass-Lowell||Northeast-10 (Division 2)|
|Richie McVey||Lynn University||Sunshine State (Division 2)|
|Frank Petrosky||Tufts||NESCAC (Division 3)|
|Justin Milo||Charleston RiverDogs||Single-A – New York Yankees|
|Joe Serafin||Kannapolis Intimidators||Single-A – Chicago White Sox|
|Justin Albert||Yakima Bears||Single- A – Arizona Diamondbacks|
Vermont Scoreboard Feature Article written by Shane Bufano – firstname.lastname@example.org