This has been a tough year on Harvard sportswriters. First there was the litany of "Hey, what's wrong with the football team?' Then, "Hey, what's wrong with the hockey team?" And now, the question most often asked over mock cheesburger-and-string-bean lunches is, "Hey, what's wrong with the baseball team?"
The answer, quite simply, is nothing. The 1979 Harvard baseball team is, make no mistake about it, a very good team. That it has failed as yet to duplicate the greatness of its 1978 counterpart is due primarily to the randomness of highs and lows that can affect a sport like baseball over a 30-game stretch.
Of course, an 18-12 record isn't all that bad. Except on a team that won the Eastern League the previous year and returned just about everybody but the coach.
Still, the chance for reprieve remains--a sweep of the Crimson's five remaining league games, this weekend and next, would leave them at 10-4 in EIBL competition, guaranteeing at least a tie for the league title and a postseason playoff berth.
Captain Larry Brown, the team's soul and senior statesman, held court on the season's ebbs and flows outside the Kirkland House dining hall yesterday afternoon, reflecting on the events of this spring both for him and for the team.
"It's a matter of a lot of small things this season," the veteran pitcher said, leaning back in his chair and talking softly. "We've been playing apart, and the result is we have played inconsistently. The second thing was the coaching change--coach Nahigian is a great guy who gives 100 per cent for the kids and the job, but obviously in the beginning you have to adjust to a new coach's style."
"Mental mistakes," Brown went on. "We made very, very few last year early, and we've made a few this year. Also, Charlie Santos-Buch has been hurt, and that killed us. He's a good glove and a good hitter, but he also gives us the spark you need--the head-first slide, or the diving catch, or the big hit."
After playing impressively down South. Crimson bats turned cold up north--the bottom third of the lineup simply died, and the only two consistent batters, Mark Bingham and Mike Stenhouse, had trouble hitting the long ball. By the time the entire lineup came alive collectively two weeks ago, though, the pitching staff had long since lost its early-season edge. Even the diamond god Brown turned out to be mortal.
A third-team All-American and the nation's leader in earned run average last season, Brownie got bombed late against Penn April 30 (an 11-9 win, eventually) and Brown April 29 (a 7-5 loss, as the Bruins pushed across five runs with two outs in the last inning).
"One of the reasons I've been flat the last two weeks was a lot of things coming together at once--the season, papers and exams, the scouts, being captain," Brown said, almost having to force the words out. "I was feeling a lot of pressure. Not so much pressure--I was just tired of it all. I wanted to get it over with and get it behind me. I wasn't really all that physically tired, but emotionally tired."
Despite the fall from his lofty pedestal, he is still the same Larry Brown-quick-witted with his native Norwood tongue, and quietly confident in himself and his team.
"The last two weeks we've played really good baseball," Brown said. "The only losses were to Holy Cross on an error, and to Brown on stupid pitching--by me."
"The thing is, last year no one was expecting us to beat anybody, so we weren't getting the good pitchers," he continued. "All of a sudden, we won 11 straight games and took the title. A team that wins a championship out of the blue is at the top, and everybody's out to get you."
Brown, too, has been at the top of the heap after his 10-1 year last year. He is a legitimate pro prospect, with a fastball that sends the JUGS gun into the high 80s, a knack for changing speeds well, and a personality that just exudes baseball. You see Larry Brown on the ballfield just once and you almost have to think that he was born in a dugout.
Like the team, though, Brownie has lapsed this year--and this time around, a stream of scouts has been there each time to check him out. As a rule, scouts do not say much to reporters, but what they have said this year indicates that getting Brownie is not exactly considered crucial to the lives of their respective franchises. Unlike teammate Stenhouse, Brown will probably not go in the top round or two of the June 5 draft.