WEB UPDATE: The boys of spring try to become the boys of summer

Posted Friday, July 8, 7:00 p.m. For the vast majority of GW baseball players, the conclusion of the Atlantic 10 tournament marks the end of their baseball playing careers. A very select few are fortunate enough to get the opportunity to follow their dreams of playing professional baseball.

The most notable of the bunch is John Flaherty, whose career at GW has spawned an ongoing 15-year career in Major League Baseball.

The Colonials’ Yankee

It may be hard to believe that John Flaherty is the only Colonial playing in any of the nation’s four major sports, but it’s true. Flaherty, who broke into the majors in 1992 with the Boston Red Sox, now dons the pinstripes as a member of the New York Yankees.

“It’s something I never thought was going to happen until I got to GW,” Flaherty said.

GW’s most famous baseball alumnus has lasted 14 seasons in the majors, bouncing around five teams including the Tampa Bay Devil Rays during the club’s inaugural season in 1998.

“I never thought I would play this long,” Flaherty said. “I always felt that I could make it to the major leagues but not really secure a career. I am just fortunate everyday that it has lasted as long as it has.”

Most recently, the backup catcher has become the personal backstop of lefty pitcher Randy Johnson. Flaherty enjoys the experience and competitiveness in New York.

“I have relished in the pressure of having to win everyday here with the Yankees,” Flaherty said. “In Tampa Bay there were no expectations of winning.”

Flaherty’s career batting average is just .254 and he has never hit more than 14 home runs in a season, but he is respected by the pitching staff and his teammates.

“He’s a great guy to have on the team, he works extremely hard and does a great job,” Yankee captain Derek Jeter said. “The more you know him the more you like him.”

Flaherty is entering the twilight of his major league career but says he wants to still be involved in the game.

“I would like to stay in the game in some capacity,” Flaherty said. “I have a young family and three kids and really traveling is something that I don’t want to do. I am probably going to take some time off and make a decision with my family. But if a coaching situation such as a college or high school arose, I would be interested because it would be less demanding travel-wise.

Warming up…

Currently, eight ex-Colonials are playing baseball on the professional level. In order to join Flaherty, the former Foggy Bottom residents will have to succeed on the lower rungs of the professional ladder.

Brad Rosenblat’s senior campaign during spring 2005 was successful, as he led the A-10 in almost every important offensive category including hits, home runs and stolen bases. At the end of the regular season Rosenblat was named A-10 player of the year. But in the last two months, Rosenblat has gone through a humbling experience as he went undrafted during the 2005 Major League Baseball draft and unsigned by any of the 30 major league teams.

GW head coach Steve Mrowka was shocked that someone with Rosenblat’s ability had such trouble finding a place to play.

“I was very disappointed that he didn’t get drafted or signed,” Mrowka said. “I don’t know the exact answer, maybe the scouts saw him on a bad day or the fact that he is a little older at 24. I was very disappointed and very frustrated.”

Running out of options, Rosenblat signed with the Broxton Rox, of the CanAm Professional Baseball League, on June 28. The Rox are best known for having 46-year old Dennis “Oil Can” Boyd, a former Boston Red Sox player, on their roster.

Mrowka was puzzled and disturbed by Rosenblat’s situation.

He said, “We worked very hard to get him signed and it worked out that the best place for him to go so he could play everyday was the independent league.”

Rosenblat joined former GW star Greg Conden, who is also playing in the CanAm league. Conden was drafted in 2003 and played two seasons in the San Diego Padres farm system.

2005 graduates Joe Michalski and Dan Sullivan also went undrafted but signed contracts to play minor league ball. Michalski, a catcher, signed with Baltimore Orioles and was assigned to the Aberdeen IronBirds of the New York-Penn League (Class A Short-Season). He has played in just four games since being signed.

Sullivan, a left-handed pitcher, signed with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and was assigned to Princeton, W. Va. (Rookie), and has pitched just one-third of an inning since being signed.

The only Colonial drafted in 2005 was Ryan Roberson. GW’s starting first baseman and clean-up hitter was taken with the 900th pick (30th round) by the Detroit Tigers. Roberson is also in the New York-Penn League with the Oneonta Tigers. In 10 games this season he has one home run.

“When you get there your first year, your objective is to just try to get invited to next year’s spring training,” Mrowka said. “You might struggle and you might not play everyday but you have to show the coaches that you work hard and that you’re a good a ballplayer.”

In 2004, the Los Angeles Dodgers selected junior Anthony Raglani with the 148th pick. During his final season at GW, Raglani played with a broken bone in his hand. Upon reporting to camp, he had season-ending surgery and missed all of the minor-league season during the summer of 2004.

Raglani has returned in 2005 with the Vero Beach Dodgers of the Florida State League (Class A-Advanced). In 70 games, he is hitting .289 with seven home runs and 31 RBI.

Two players from the 2002 class are also playing in the minors.

Pitcher Michael O’Conner is hurling for the Potomac Nationals and has a 3-8 record with a 4.87 ERA in 81.1 innings. Shortstop Jake Wald is in the San Francisco Giants organization and is playing for San Jose of the California League (Class A Advanced). He has a batting average of .318 with seven home runs and 23 RBI.

GW’s baseball program benefits from having players in the minors.

“It’s a big selling point when we are recruiting because kids want to know if we are getting our players drafted and signed,” Mrowka said. “They want to know it could be an option for them.”

Current GW players are also playing under the summer sun in collegiate wood-bat leagues. New England plays host to the most prestigious and well-known collegiate baseball league. Featured in the movie “Summer Catch,” the Cape-Cod league has been host to dozens of GW players throughout the years. This year, pitcher Derek Lutz represents GW in the Cod league.

Lutz, who will be a junior next fall, is playing for the Chatam A’s and has four saves, tied for third best in the league.

Mrowka does have some concerns about his ace throwing innings throughout the summer.

“I worry about starting pitchers because they start to pitch a lot of innings throughout the year,” Mrowka said. “It can be tough on us and them especially if they are getting high pitch counts. We try to talk to their summer league coaches and ask them to restrict their pitch counts, use them out of the bullpen or use them once every eight days.”

Lutz isn’t the only Colonial playing summer ball.

In the newly formed Cal Ripken Sr. Collegiate Baseball League, juniors Mickey Shupin and Derek Haese are both playing for the Silver Spring-Takoma Thunderbolts.

Shupin, an infielder, is hitting .279 with nine stolen bases and 14 runs scored. Haese, who is a reliever, has worked just 1.2 innings out of the Thunderbolts bullpen.

Mrowka believes that summer league ball can help the program and a player’s ability.

He said, “What we try to do is recruit good ball players and then teach them. In the summer we try to send as many of our ball players out into the summer leagues. It gives them more experience and makes them better.”

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