An average baseball in the major leagues has a lifespan of about seven pitches. A game usually lasts nine innings, and a regular college season spans 56 games.
But the bonds between the 14 teammates that have been four years in the making last a lifetime.
Twenty freshman donned the buff and blue for the first time in their college baseball careers in 2014 as the one of the largest recruiting classes in program history and the first batch of athletes head coach Gregg Ritchie brought to GW.
At the athletics commencement ceremony last Tuesday, 14 of the 20 traded their baseball caps for graduation caps and walked onto the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre stage as current student athletes and left as graduates.
From starting out as one of the youngest college baseball teams in the nation their freshman year to three consecutive Atlantic 10 tournament appearances, these players have come a long way. Baseball’s graduating seniors have gone from uncertain teenagers to confident men, ready to move on after their college careers come to a close.
“It’s been an absolute pleasure,” senior outfielder Joey Bartosic said. “I came in as a boy and I felt like I left as a man, and [Ritchie] helped me do that.”
Now, the Colonials (30-25, 14-10 A10) are about to embark on their third trip to the A-10 tournament Wednesday as the No. 4 seed against the Saint Louis Billikens. This season, GW leads the conference in hits (540), fielding percentage (.981) and owns the second-highest team batting average (.288).
The journey began when Dave Lorber, the recruiting coordinator, had the difficult task of finding 20 new recruits in roughly four months after the program was set to graduate 15 seniors following the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
“These guys I don’t think were highly touted out of high school as big-time prospects,” Lorber said. “But each one of them have tremendous heart and care for not only teammates but their desire to get better for themselves. I think that’s shown over the last four years and what they’ve accomplished for this program.”
Lorber and Ritchie were searching for players with high moral character, a chip on their shoulders and a love for the game. The talent came after, Ritchie said.
“The big part was we needed guys to come in who were good character guys,” he said. “So we saw that in them. We saw a bunch of kids that had a chance to become really good men very quickly, and if the athleticism was trained, we knew we had some pretty good players.”
In his tenure as head coach, Ritchie said that he built a program centered around his standards for success, including attitude, effort, grit and gratitude. It was not until he developed his players as both athletes and people that he pushed the final standard – team.
“Most people go the other way around, and the problem with that is, you are developing people who don’t know their place, who haven’t figured out their place, haven’t figured out their home stretch of their dream,” Ritchie said. “And when you can achieve that, then you can become team. And then that’s family.”
That connection is felt both on and off the field.
“There’s a certain connection you have with those guys, that you’ve been here with for four years,” senior outfielder Andrew Selby said. “I always have three, four guys with me, and it’s just your best friends all over the place so I think those are the best moments, they come off the field.”
Through mutual respect, the seniors said they motivate each other to drive the team forward.
“They hold each other accountable to being men,” Ritchie said. “And being that man means you’re accountable to every single person around you and what you do.”
One player that didn’t graduate with the seniors Tuesday was Kevin Mahala, who was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates last year. His teammates at GW are still rooting for the shortstop and see his success as a way to push themselves.
“Kevin was with us four years ago when we got here and he worked his butt off to get to where he is now,” senior first baseman Bobby Campbell said. “To see one of our best friends get drafted last year, and be successful in the minor league system, it’s really cool for us and it does motivate us to get to the same level as him and make it to the next step.”
Senior third baseman Eli Kashi said the team’s love for each other extends to Ritchie, who he calls the best coach in college baseball.
“He’s also someone who he cares more, he cares about you more than just as a player,” Kashi said. “It’s a family experience, not just a coach.”
Ritchie said he treats his players like he would his own son.
“When something is happening, say a kid had something happen on campus that wasn’t good, before I address the situation or even ask one question, I immediately think of my own kid, Logan,” Ritchie said. “If you always take the responsibility that these are your kids, then you’re going to treat them like it was your own.”
Both on and off the field, Ritchie’s guidance extends to all aspects of his players’ lives, from academics to family problems.
“He’s been like a father-away-from-home to not just me but all of us,” senior utility player Colin Gibbons-Fly said.
From hotel card games on road trips to Bobby Campbell’s walk-off game-winning home run against Richmond last year, the seniors have no problem recalling stand-out experiences from the last four years.
Although their favorite memories are varied amongst the teammates, the one thing they all said they’d miss most after their final season was the same: “the guys.”
“It’s gonna be tough not coming to the field everyday and seeing all the coaches and guys,” senior pitcher Brandon Ritchie said. “But I feel like we have such a close group that we’re gonna stay in touch.”
After four years of pushing and molding his players, Ritchie has one last challenge to his players as they leave GW.
“They know there’s simplicity to all of it, that no matter what happens, that they want to be good, solid, impactful men whatever they do after this,” Ritchie said. “If I see those guys doing that right after this, then I’m loving it.”
It won’t be easy for the coach to see his first recruiting class move on from GW, Ritchie added.
“I love what I do and it’s hard for me to see these guys leave,” he said. “It’s really hard.”