For two years Harvard has had the top pitcher in the Eastern League, and yet each season the Crimson has lost the League title because of its shallow pitching staff. This season coach Loyal Park has eight top prospects, several with varsity experience, who probably will determine the fate of the Crimson this spring.
Three years ago junior Ray Peters tore the Eastern League apart and led the Crimson to the NCAA World Series. Unfortunately for Park, Peters was so good that he accepted a contract with the Seattle Pilots the next spring and commuted to Cambridge for hour exams and finals.
Two years ago senior Bob Kalinoski came off the bench and developed some control to go with his blazing fastball. Kalinoski finished the season undefeated in the Eastern League, leading all pitchers in ERA.
Last year the Crimson had just one returning pitcher, junior J. C. Nickens, and he had been less than impressive in compiling a 3.65 ERA. But Nickens came back to win three of four League games, leading the league with an 0.75 ERA. And Phil Collins, who had only pitched two innings previously, also won three League contests with a 2.82 ERA.
With Collins and Nickens returning, and three more pitchers with extensive varsity experience, Park can be optimistic about his pitching staff for the first time since he became coach three years ago.
In the all-important double-header with Dartmouth last year, Nickens held the Indians to five singles, losing the game 1.0, and Collins had a three-hitter entering the final inning of the second game. If the Crimson can develop that kind of a consistent pitching rotation, its batting strength will make it the top Eastern League entry.
"Collins was our top pitcher lost year, and he appears to be developing along the same lines this spring," Park said. Collins uses a side-arm delivery that surprises and challenges most collegiate hitters.
Nickens promises to be the team's top left-hander again this season. He relies on control rather than speed, mixing curves and changes of speed rather than blowing the ball past the batter. His style, however, has sometimes hurt him because the strong wind at Soldiers' Field has a tendency to make a curve ball hang.
A third possible starter is senior Tom Kidwell who made several strong relief performances last year and hurled a four-hitter against Springfield. "He's the best arm on the staff." Park said. "His fast ball really moves."
Bill Kelly also went the distance in several games last year. Park has called him the best all-around athlete on the team and has used him at shortstop and centerfield during the past two years. "He pitched very strongly in the summer league so we'll develop him solely as a pitcher this year," Park said.
A fifth returning letterman is John Todd, who won three games, for the Crimson last spring. "He's my kind of ideal pitcher because he keeps the ball right-over the plate consistently," Park said.
Park will probably use Barry Malinowski in the bullpen as a relief hurler. Malinowski is the hardest thrower on the mound staff.
Two sophomores, Sandy Weissent and Roz Brayton, also have a good chance of stepping into the starting rotation. Brayton could join Nickens as a starter and give the team two strong lefthanders.
The simple numerical strength of eight pitchers gives the Crimson an added advantage this spring. Last year Kelly, Curt Tucker, and Pete Bernhard were developed as fielders and pitchers. This year's depth gives Park the material to work at each spot in the lineup without shuffling other positions.