Of course, if you’re Harvard coach Joe Walsh, that’s not what you’re doing, really. Sure, Shawn Haviland is a rookie, thus far largely untested at the collegiate level. But Walsh knows how his potential ace will fare before he ever reaches the mound.
“It can be [a difficult situation] for some freshmen,” Walsh says. “There are a lot of guys that aren’t freshmen that that’s a tough situation for. But he’s a kid that’s got ice water running through his veins. He’s a bulldog. And I feel good about putting guys like that on the mound.”
Walsh’s trust isn’t unfounded. A mere two days ago, when he plucked Haviland from the bullpen and thrust him onto the mound with Holy Cross knocking on the door in the ninth inning of a then-scoreless tie, his freshman delivered, picking the lead runner off at second base, then inducing an inning-ending pop fly, before retiring the side the next inning on five pitches.
“I think,” Walsh says, “he wants to be in situations like that.”
Well, not quite. Sure, two runners will do, but why stop there?
“I love coming in with the bases loaded trying to get us out of a jam,” says Haviland, who turned down Wake Forest and his father’s alma mater, UConn, to attend Harvard. “I would like to think that I get better when the pressure’s on.”
Of course, prior to pitching for Harvard, it would have been hard for Haviland to point to a moment when the pressure actually wasn’t on. As a star for Farmington High School, the 6’1, 185-lb. right hander wasn’t so much the team’s No. 1 starter as its first and only option.
As Haviland—surrounded by underclassmen during his final two years with the varsity—went, Farmington went.
“If I gave up any more than two runs,” Haviland says, “we were definitely going to lose.”
But, at least when Haviland was on the hill, Farmington generally didn’t, according to his former athletic director, Jack Phelan, who estimates that Haviland’s arrival at Farmington doubled the school’s yearly win total.
“He single-handedly put Farmington High School on the map,” Phelan says, “in terms of taking us from a team that won a few games a year to a team that qualified for the state tournament and would have had a chance to challenge for the championship if he were able to pitch more of the games.”
A rather bold statement considering Farmington’s early exit from Connecticut’s high school tournament Haviland’s senior year. Of course, that disappointing end came only in spite of Haviland’s best efforts.
Because Farmington had not advanced beyond the first round in recent memory, if ever, coach Pete Veleas gave Haviland the start in the playoff opener, and his senior sensation did not disappoint, striking out 15 through five innings before being lifted to pitch again in the next round.
Unfortunately for the Farmington faithful, Haviland was not given the start and was instead called upon in relief with his side already down 1-0. Haviland, not surprisingly, allowed zero runs the rest of the way. Of course, it was already too late. Farmington’s opponent, the eventual state champion, was equally stingy.
Four years ago, Walsh might not have been so confident. After all, the kid who’d become the folk hero of Farmington wasn’t so widely heralded just yet. He also hadn’t, by Haviland’s own admission, cracked 5’2, 110 lbs. either. His position: shortstop.
Yet Haviland continued to tinker with his pitching mechanics and perfect the curveball he’d come to rely so heavily upon. When he finally did grow—seven inches prior to his sophomore season—he skipped the transition required of the many hard throwers who then decide to become pitchers, and suddenly his coach wasn’t limiting him to playing shortstop any more.
“It was kind of a weird thing,” Haviland says. “I didn’t pitch at all, and then my sophomore year I was the top pitcher.”
Consider Haviland’s rise up the ladder a continuing phenomenon. In six appearances this year, he has held opponents to just a .211 batting average, best on the Crimson for a pitcher with 15 innings or more.
It’s no wonder, then, that Walsh isn’t so concerned about what Haviland can do, but what he’ll be able to do next.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.