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The 1981 Harvard baseball team has the misfortune to be playing under the Jimmy Carter Once-Is-Usually-Enough Law of Unrepeated Achievement: It is twice as hard to win the second time around.
Take Love Story, Bobo Holloman's nohitter, or Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose. Each set a hard act to follow with initial success. Each fell on its face trying to follow it. With the whole world breathing down your neck and the gallery screaming for your head, the pressure can make all but the strongest crumble like a Famous Amos in the vise of an angry Sumo wrestler.
And that brings us to the defending Eastern League champion Crimson. Picked to finish out of the money a year ago, the resourceful, talented squad came home in a dead-heat for the title, calmly dispensing of Cornell and Yale in the ensuing round-robin.
Therefore, despite a 3-4 record in Florida, the graduation of three-quarters of an infield, a center fielder and two pitchers, and the presence of one Ron ("Ronnie") Darling on the Yale pitching staff. Harvard opens the current campaign ranked number one in New England. Jeepers.
The question is, can a young Crimson team, playing without superscooper Rick Pearce and scrappy Bobby Kelley anchoring the infield and fast, rangy Charlie Santos-Buch ruling the outfield for the first time in an Olympiad, get mature enough fast enough to repeat as champs? The answer follows:
The Infield: It is fair to say that the Crimson would not have won last year without shortstop Brad Bauer. The freshman sensation hit a clutch .288 (including a team-leading four homers) and played his position better than any had in five years.
Sophomore Bauer is back, but he is all that is back. Mark Bingham, Bobby Kelley and Rick Pearce, Harvard's second-and fourth-leading hitters and the EIBL's finest thirdsacker, have gone the diploma-and-real-world route. All that remains are their cleatmarks.
The key to Harvard's infield will be freshman second baseman Gaylord Lyman. Winning in college baseball depends on making the makeable play (something Kelley excelled at), and for Harvard to contend the rally-snuffing twin-killings must be there. Lyman's hitting ability and even his range are secondary, but his consistency will be a litmus-test of this squad. If he plays a steady, smart second base, the Crimson's double play combination--and thus their defense--will be second to few.
Replacing Pearce at third is junior Danny Skaff. In part-time action last season, Skaff hit a .368 clip, and his bat was equally hot down south last week. It is unfair to compare him to Pearce as a fielder, but although his range may be a problem, he is surehanded, throws well and plays heads-up ball. Again, consistency from him is important.
Several gloves should see action at first base, including those belonging to Vinnie Martelli, Chuck Marshall and Donny Allard. Marshall and Allard suffered from horrendous starts at the plate last season and couldn't recover, both finishing below 150. But Marshall is a proven hitter, and a return to form by him will help replace Bingham's potent (.298 and a team-leading 27 rbi's) bat. Allard, who played a fine left-field last year, should develop into a classy first baseman.
And then there is Chico. Paul Chicarello, a hustler who actually still chatters in the infield, can play anywhere on a bit of talent and a lot of heart. Chico's bat is an asset no matter where he plays, so look for him to do some dh-ing if the infield clicks and stays healthy. He'll get his at bats. Also taking a turn at the plate will be freshman Ted Polich.
The Outfield: Another freshman will tell the story here. Bruce Weller takes over for Santos-Buch in center, and according to coach Alex Nahigian, his range is comparable to the departed. If this is true, and Weller is at least an average hitter, Harvard has hit the jackpot again. Although not usually considered a skill position, a swift, dependable center fielder is a rare commodity, and finding two in arow is almost too much to ask for.
If Weller falters, Danny Bowles will likely play center, although Nahigian prefers him starting in right. Bowles, a lefty swinger with a sweet stroke, is a fine hitter and a good fielder--his arm may be the best on the club. His only question-mark may be an ability to hit lefties, but only because he has not seen many. Bowles in right will be a Crimson strength.
The squad's only natural lead-off hitter, left fielder Paul Scheper, is another of the role players who helped Harvard to the title last season. His .333 average in 33 at bats includes some clutch hits, and although he has little power, he does a lot of little things well with the bat. Scheper's speed (seven stolen bases) will help in left.
Allard and Martelli will also see action in the outfield, and both earned their stirrup socks with honor there last season. Allard, who started in left for most of the early going a year ago, made a game-saving, sliding catch on the way to an errorless campaign.
The Catching: It seems as if he's been around forever, but senior captain Joe Wark has actually only been behind the plate for three years. Bringing new meaning to the word intense, Wark is a fierce competitor whose defensive skills more than carry his airy bat. Wark's hits, though more recent than a few years ago, still don't come in bunches, but the way he wears his shinguards, he would start if he never even fouled one off. Martelli and Kevin Lennon will spell the captain, but you can bet Wark will catch the big ones. There is none better defensively in the league.
The Pitching: A strength. If Bill Larson continues to improve, he'll be all-league next year. Billy Doyle is a battler, Greg Brown a flame-thrower, and John Sorich's knuckle-curve a dazzling out pitch from the bullpen.
But Harvard's lowest ERA belongs to unheralded Jim Curtin, a junior who saw action in five games and tossed to a 2.33 ERA. In Curtin and a corps of newcomers (freshman Dave Wanger is the brightest), Nahigian has pitching depth the hasn't had in his two years here. Along with consistency, pitching depth is an Eastern League must, especially with the late-season doubleheaders. The fifth and sixth pitchers decide championships.
The Outlook: A deep, strong club, but the bugaboo may be youth. "That's the thing we lack, experience," Nahigian says. "We've started to cut down on our mental errors, and, right now, I feel we're a solid ball club. We'll find out this weekend just how good we are."
Today's contest at Navy and tomorrow's doubleheader at Princeton will certainly test the Crimson early. Navy was one of the EIBL's elite last season, finishing just a fame off the tripartite pace, while Princeton's pitching staff led the nation in earned run average. Two wins will signify a solid club; three, and extraordinary one. But anything less may just mean it's too soon to tell, for this is a team that will keep improving.
So. What we seem to have is a club capable of doing just about anything except real bad. This could be a rebuilding year, with the team finishing at or below the .500 mark. This could be a good, but not great, team that finishes second or third and looks to the future, when everyone but Wark and Marshall come back next year.
Finally, this could be the best team in the East, a team that goes farther than last year's loss to St. John's in the NCAA's. With a dynamic infield and deep pitching, the Crimson seem capable of playing with any squad around. The words to remember, however, are maturity and consistency.
But it is important also to remember how hard it is for a team to repeat. Being champion means everybody saves their best pitcher to knock you off--so get ready to see a Lockenmayer or Darling just about every day. It means you have to be up for each game, because in this league, in an ordinary year, four losses means death.
And now for the crystal ball: Look for the Crimson, despite the pressure, to win a close race with Princeton and Yale, with an overrated Cornell limping home fourth. The make-up of the squad, with no real stars (except perhaps Bauer) but good talent all around, is conducive to winning in the EIBL. The pitching seems to be as good as last year's, and the spirit is there It should be interesting.
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