Thursday, April 13, 2006

Crockett and Birtwell

Two of the great pitchers of the modern era of Harvard baseball were released by their professional organizations in recent weeks, Ben Crockett '02 by the Rockies and John Birtwell '01 by the Tigers.

Can you count the Crockett memories? I remember the 17-strikeout game. I remember the time he came out of the bullpen to nail down a pivotal inning against Brown. I've never seen a pitcher carry a team over a stretch of games on any level like Ben Crockett over the last three weeks of the 2002 Ivy League season, the Crimson's return to glory. I remember the no-hitter against Dartmouth the season earlier in what turned out to be a meaningless game, the fourth game in the four-game series against Dartmouth, and ultimately feeling there was no way that game would've been meaningless had Crockett only gotten to throw one of the first games the day before in Hanover. I remember Crockett's final start, an NCAA Regional loss to Washington in Houston, and shaking his hand afterward, letting him know how much I enjoyed watching him pitch--something I wasn't generally inclined to do, but felt I had to as his Crimson career quietly ended. He was very gracious. Crockett and Chris Young were Ivy Co-Rookies of the Year in 1999, and I figured Crockett might also wind up in the Show one day, if only for a while. Injuries were unkind to him.

As for John Birtwell--well, Sonia, the Winthrop House dining hall checker still talks about him. So does anybody who saw him pitch. The sidearm delivery was almost as painful to watch as it must've been to face, but nobody fought harder. He was the team's obvious soul in 2001. And despite all of the standout Crockett moments I mentioned above, I suspect that years from now, Birtwell's 10 innings (in the early Ivy game, scheduled for 7) in a loss against Dartmouth after stepping in in relief the previous afternoon might reign as the signature pitching performance of Harvard baseball in my eyes. Joe Walsh once said of him, "If you could get a group of high school kids together, you’d just videotape [Birtwell] and show it to them. Then you could say ‘This is what a competitor is. This is what a battler is.’" As it happens, Shawn Haviland and Adam Cole were high schoolers right around that time, or a few short months thereafter. You've undoubtedly heard the name, gents. That's what a competitor was. That's what a battler was. We can only hope that someday we'll speak of you guys with similar reverence as Crockett and Birtwell. I think we might. But it'll be because of a lot more than you striking guys out.

Once upon a time, John Birtwell was the Tigers' Minor League Player of the Year, and Crockett was a 3rd round draft pick. Sometime before that, they weaved wonderful memories for themselves, their teammates and anyone else who cared to cross the bridge to Allston. I don't know what they want to do now, but if they're looking for another game, I sure hope they get it.

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Congratulations to Cole, Ivy Rookie of the Week again, and Stefan Wilson, this week's Harvard rep on the Ivy Honor Roll.

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