What was earmarked as Dante Baldelli’s senior season at Boston College joined the lengthy list of COVID-19 sports casualties. Despite that major disappointment, all was not completely lost for the Cumberland native and Bishop Hendricken product.
The NCAA’s decision to grant springtime student-athletes an additional year of eligibility afforded Baldelli the opportunity to return to BC for one final hurrah in a college baseball setting. The outfielder has enrolled in graduate school, thus ensuring he will be in the Eagles’ fold when the 2021 season rolls around.
Originally, Baldelli’s plan to stay sharp during the pandemic consisted of taking swings at the indoor batting cages located in the basement of his family’s Woonsocket-based business. Combating a longer-than-usual offseason became easier however with the graduation gift he received from his well-known older brother Rocco – a top-of-the-line pitching machine that enabled him to get in reps at the local ballfield.
Deep down though, Baldelli knew there was no substitution for the real thing – live pitching and making split-second decisions on a ball hit into the outfield gap.
Upon receiving a text message from Boston College assistant coach Greg Sullivan about the NCBL, a pop-up summer college baseball venture in Newport, Rhode Island, Baldelli realized he could make this opportunity work. The league would stage games at Cardines Field on Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays affording him ample time to tend to his graduate studies.
“It would have been tough to play six or seven games a week based on the classes I’m taking,” said Baldelli. “To play games on just the weekend and get my schoolwork done during the week … I couldn’t say no to it. I wanted to play so badly again.
“I’m just excited to be playing again and to see pitches and play defense,” said Baldelli. “We got that taken away from us for an extended period of time. The league in general, I think everyone is excited to have baseball back.”
In talking with his college coaches, family, and close friends since the pandemic, Baldelli has grown even more appreciative of the most basic benefit that’s offered by the Newport Collegiate Baseball League.
“You don’t realize what you have until something like this happens. That’s why you can’t take it for granted,” he said. “Everyone [participating in the Newport league] is experiencing that now and definitely appreciating the opportunity to be back out there once again.”
Baldelli credits his brother’s present as one of the reasons why he’s enjoyed a smooth transition to facing actual pitchers in Newport. When he stepped into the box on July 10, exactly four months had passed since his final game of the abbreviated 2020 season at BC.
Before Thursday’s game, Baldelli’s batting average stood at .321 (nine hits in 28 at-bats) while his OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging) was .905. Upon reaching base, he’s often looked to make something happen with his feet (4-for-5 in stolen base attempts).
“The most important thing right now is for the position players to get at-bats and defensive reps and for the pitchers to get their innings in,” said Baldelli. “It’s been a long drought, but it’s tough to judge when we haven’t played in so long.”
Right now, the status of fall ball on college campuses around the country hangs in the air like a mile-high pop-up. Intrasquad scrimmages could be replaced by limited group sessions or individual practices, hence Baldelli understands the importance of the business he’s tending to at the moment in Newport.
“No one knows what’s going to go on and it’s tough to speculate, but that’s why it’s so important to take advantage of what’s being afforded to me right now,” said Baldelli. “It’s about staying locked in as much as you can and putting yourself in the best position to be ready for the fall. It doesn’t matter what it might look like.”
Baldelli isn’t the only member of BC’s baseball family that’s spreading his wings in Newport. Daniel Baruch, a Cranston native and graduate of The Wheeler School, has contributed as a pitcher and a hitter during his freshman year with the Eagles. This summer, Baruch is strictly working as a pitcher for Paul Bailey’s Blue Crew Team.
This past Sunday night, Baldelli stepped into the box to face Baruch. Baldelli’s team – Kettlebottom LLC – was running out of time in its quest to keep its undefeated record intact. Kettlebottom trailed the Blue Crew, 8-0, heading into the last inning.
“Honestly, we weren’t expecting to come back, but we were going to keep playing the game,” said Baldelli.
It was an 8-7 game when Baldelli faced Baruch with two down and bases loaded. Baldelli drove in the tying run with a base hit up the middle. Kettlebottom kept on coming in an eventual 11-8 win that improved the team’s record to 8-0.
“It was a definitely a fun moment for both of us,” said Baldelli. “I was able to come up on top and I’ll be sure to let (Baruch) know when I see him in the fall.”