John Flaherty had not yet chosen where he was going to college.
The New York native went on a recruiting trip to GW in the mid-80s, and one of the baseball team’s top players showed him around.
The player brought Flaherty to his residence hall room and showed him around campus – quickly taking a liking to the young catcher.
“With me and him, it was like snap of the fingers, we were good,” his former teammate and current head coach of GW baseball, Gregg Ritchie said. “I was excited about that, because obviously I was a pitcher of the team too.”
Flaherty joined 12 others in a highly touted recruiting class. That class would join Ritchie in his senior season in 1986, when he became an All-American as a hitter-pitcher extraordinaire.
It was in that year that the current GW legacy was formed.
The background of GW’s head coach is a well-known trope around the baseball team now: All-American at GW, Triple-A baseball player, hitting coach for Andrew McCutchen and the Pittsburgh Pirates, and then back to college baseball as the head coach of the Colonials since 2013.
Some of Flaherty’s story is well known among GW baseball fans too: three-year catcher for the Colonials, drafted after his junior year and then a 14-year Major League Baseball veteran, including a long stint with the New York Yankees and now a broadcaster on the Yankees TV station, YES Network.
One of his main influences on that team was the the young coach, John Castleberry, who would eventually lead GW to a NCAA Tournament berth in 1990 – the year after Flaherty left for the pros. In 2014, Castleberry won a World Series with the San Francisco Giants as the northeast region scouting supervisor. The list of players who would go on to pro ball in some respect from this era is relatively long.
“The whole idea of rebuilding a program, taking it to another level with the young coach and the young players was really what first drew me to the athletics program and then secondly, obviously, GW with the academic reputation,” Flaherty said. “It was a great fit for me.”
As for Ritchie and Flaherty, they have gone on to hold two of the most storied baseball careers among GW alumni.
Last weekend in the Bronx, Flaherty was busy with work on the Yankees-Red Sox series, when his current career collided with his former GW baseball career, when the Colonials were in town for a weekend series against Fordham.
The series with the Rams was an important reminder of progress for the Colonials. In Flaherty and Ritchie’s days, GW was back on the rise. But the ups were eventually matched by downs, when the program took a step back in the mid-2000s, until Ritchie took over the program three years ago.
Flaherty was part of the reason Ritchie took over as head coach. Athletic Director Patrick Nero asked the former Major Leaguer to join the committee to select a new coach – and Ritchie had sent in a resume for the job.
“I immediately called Gregg,” Flaherty said. “You know Gregg is with the Pittsburgh Pirates. I said, ‘What’s going on here? Are you serious about this?’”
Soon enough, Flaherty helped bring Ritchie to the Colonials. Since then, their relationship has grown with the program, he said.
Ritchie’s prestige and recruiting skills helped him bring in his own big class. The Colonials are now a team pursuing an A-10 Championship, mostly filled with juniors, including potential pro prospects like Kevin Mahala.
Ritchie’s pedigree has always been impressive: Several of his assistant coaches have headed to pro ball and former pitcher Shane Kemp plays in the minor league. The legacy of Flaherty also looms large at GW.
Mahala, a shortstop, called Flaherty a “GW legend.”
“When I came here I didn’t really have too many pro prospects on my mind,” Mahala said. “He’s definitely an inspirational guy, been in the big leagues for many years and a great player.”
It’s been a successful season for the Colonials shortstop. One of his top games all season was against regional powerhouse, Maryland. In College Park, he went 4-6 with six RBIs in a 19-10 win for GW.
In a season’s campaign with goals of going to the NCAA Tournament, it was eerily similar to a win against Maryland in 1986. With scouts taking attention to Ritchie’s banner senior season, a crowd formed for the big game. GW went onto beat the Terrapins in College Park, 21-8.
“That was a statement game for our program, being able to go to Maryland and beat up on them like we did,” Flaherty said. “A lot of it was because of leadership and play of Gregg Ritchie.”
The game helped propel Ritchie into his pro career. It was also one of Flaherty’s greatest memories of his former teammate and current GW coach. Those years are rose-tinted for Flaherty, who keeps in contact with many of his former teammates from his college days. He continues to support the team financially, at the team’s annual golf tournament and, of course, on Twitter.
Take a brief look at Flaherty’s Twitter handle and you will see an account peppered with more GW-related tweets than Yankees tweets sometimes. Social media is the main way he is able to keep up with his old team, which he notes has helped even the plain in notoriety among GW sports.
“Back then I don’t think we had the ability to kind of promote where we were heading as a baseball team,” Flaherty said. “You kind of felt like you were a little lost, but that quickly went away with the guys on your team. You knew what you were building and what you were doing, and we were proud of it. Looking back at it, I feel like maybe we were the start to some of the things that are happening now.”