Stoller rediscovers pop at Framingham
On the day Ryan Stoller found out that a blood clot might kill him before he would graduate from high school, his right arm turned purple.
Milton High baseball coach Ted Curley remembers visiting Stoller at the hospital in 2006, first assuming that the junior pitcher had a bicep injury, perhaps from throwing too much while getting all he could out of his undersized 5-foot-9 frame (Curley remembers Stoller throwing 86 miles per hour as a sophomore in 2005).
But the purple arm wasn’t from an injury - a blood clot had formed in Stoller’s thoracic outlet (the area between the rib cage and collar bone), and if it reached the heart, the result could have been fatal.
“I think he was sort of in shock at the time,’’ said Curley. “At that point he was thinking, ‘My career is over.’ ’’
“To be removed from baseball when you worked that hard - to have something taken away from you like that - it can’t be easy. And meanwhile a doctor is telling him, ‘You’re lucky you’re alive.’ ’’
A number of players that never make it to the big leagues (especially those with tremendous success early on in their careers) have vivid memories of when their dream ended.
With his gifted right arm, Stoller, seemingly, was not on track for that fate.
With full command of a two-seam and four-seam fastball, a curve, and one crafty slider that made him a can’t-miss pitcher, Stoller’s mailbox was often full of letters from Division 1 colleges.
What Stoller possessed before needing surgery was what so many old-time baseball coaches hope to find - that magical pop.
What is that, exactly?
“It’s that late movement,’’ Curley began to explain, then finally said, “Ah, never mind, it’s hard to describe. Some people can throw 95 and get hit. Some can throw 85 and get outs. That’s pop. Ryan had it.’’
That was until the surgery, when Stoller had a rib removed to relieve pressure and keep him healthy and alive. But because of the impact the procedure had on his shoulder, his fastball wasn’t so lucky.
And while the raw talent Stoller possessed was too much for University of Massachusetts Lowell coach Ken Harring to pass up, the pitcher, post-surgery, never could fully put it together as a River Hawk.
“I think for the kids who truly have the ability to play at the next level, it may be harder for them when they don’t perform to their potential and don’t reach their goals,’’ said Harring, who played two years of minor league ball for the Atlanta Braves organization, reaching Class A.
“So I think sometimes realizing that is hard, because ever since you’re a little kid you want to get to the big leagues.’’
Stoller kept at it though, despite the lack of playing time at Lowell, where he said baseball began to feel more like a job than a game. So last fall he transferred to Framingham State, a Division 3 program under the direction of coach Brian Blumsack, who had tried recruiting Stoller previously, but later found out his letter went straight to the trash can. This time, though, the coach got his man.
“You have to give it to him,’’ Blumsack said. “Some guys would have said, ‘Eh, I’ll pack it in and that’s the end of it.’ But he kept going.’’
The pop comes back from time to time, Blumsack said, and when it does, matched with Stoller’s control, “He’s nearly unhittable.’’ But what’s more important is that Stoller is having fun again.
The fantasy of pitching in the big leagues - and the pressure that comes with that challenge - is gone.
And in 31 1/3 innings through Wednesday (against MASCAC batters using metal bats, compared with wood bats used in the Northeast-10), Stoller has a 3.16 ERA while holding opposing hitters to a team-low .240 average for the 19-11 Rams.
“I’ve been at this for a while,’’ Stoller said. “Out of high school, I had no ceiling; I wanted to go as far as I could. The surgery took those dreams, but it worked out for the good. Now it’s my senior year, and it’s really important to me.’’
Bridgewater hitter bids stress farewell
Bridgewater State junior third baseman Jennifer Shaw never hit more than three home runs during her years at Brockton High, but she says it’s because she was always so stressed out.
“I think I was too hard on myself,’’ she said. “I’m not one to look at stats, but if I mess up a play, it’s in my head and I hold on to it.’’
Consider the stress gone, because with another homer last week, Shaw has hit eight bombs in consecutive seasons for the Bears (23-8) and has a chance to set a personal record before the season is over.
“I’m pretty sure I can beat it,’’ she said. “I think I just have to relax a little bit. And I’m in much better shape. Softball is more of a responsibility than just a hobby now.’’
Through 31 games, Shaw’s .427 batting average ranked second in the MASCAC, while her eight homers led the league. . . . East Bridgewater’s Greg Baggett is on a power surge for the Bentley baseball team.
The senior catcher/designated hitter belted homers in four consecutive games for the Falcons (19-18), including a two-run blast in a 12-4 win over Stonehill last Tuesday afternoon. In 31 games, he is hitting .275 with six homers and 20 RBIs.
Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at email@example.com.