(Our questions are in bold, followed by Dan's answers.)
This will be the first NCAA tournament appearance for the Eagles since 2009. Where have they been and what has contributed to the team's absence from postseason play?
You know, it's been a roller coaster of a ride. That 2009 team was so special for a number of reasons, but in the years after, BC just totally fell off the map. The players were good character guys and played their butts off, but they just couldn't win baseball games. In 2013, it bottomed out with a 12-40 record. That year, BC opened the season going 0-20 in league play before they rallied to beat Miami for two and go 6-5 over the last 11 games. The majority of the guys who played that year were freshmen who are now seniors on the current roster.
So it's been a long process where the head coach, Mike Gambino, had to weather a really rough storm for a while. He managed to put together a pretty decent roster last year, but a couple of key injuries cost the team a run at the end. Then there's this year, where they've surprised a bunch of people, but the funny thing is that they knew they were good enough to compete at this level.
The one thing that's really held BC back is its facilities. The baseball field is a tailgate parking lot during football season, and the stadium itself lacks modern amenities like sunken dugouts, locker rooms, and running water. It's on the backside of the football stadium with virtually no foul ground. A fly ball down the right field line can turn into a concrete pillar with some padding wrapped around it. This year, when we had freak snow, the guys had to shovel off their batting cage to get some swings in.
So what BC was left with this year was a team with a giant chip on its shoulder, enough talent to be competitive, and a drive to really prove everyone wrong, especially when everyone talks about northern teams being unable to compete in southern leagues, unable to recruit guys, unable to develop talent. When you deal with that noise, you really have something to prove.
Boston College seemed to have a bit of a roller coaster of conference with peaks like winning the series against Louisville and UVA, then valleys such as series losses to Notre Dame and Pitt. What do you attribute to the inconsistency?
I think BC had to find themselves. They should've won a game down at Clemson, but the losses to the Tigers and the freak snowstorms cancelling games against Florida State in April really wore things down. They couldn't really get into a rhythm because it always seemed like something was holding them back. They also had trouble hitting, and it felt like everything was just out of sync.
Before the Virginia series, they moved Justin Dunn, who has an absolutely electric arm, into the starting rotation; they lost only one series in ACC play - out at Notre Dame - after that. They still weren't a great hitting team, but they have enough in the bats to manufacture runs. They totally embraced small ball with aggressive base running and bunting, but they can get a big hit when they need it. I think beating NC State early in the year gave a glimmer of what this team could be, and they really turned it on after that Virginia series. Once they got hot, they just kept rolling.
What they did against Georgia Tech was nothing short of amazing. They had to win both ends of a doubleheader to make the conference tournament where a single loss meant they would miss both the conference and national tournament. They won the first game with a complete game from Dunn, then pulled away in the second game. It was one of those weekends where everyone really got a taste for how gritty this team really is.
How would you rank the basic components of BC's squad from first to last? Hitting, starting pitching, bullpen, fielding and your name to know for each.
BC is a team built primarily around pitching and defense. They have two elite starters in Dunn and Mike King and a third, Jacob Stevens, who threw his first 30 innings or so without allowing an earned run. Their infield has had its ups and downs at times, but it's recognized as a very solid fundamental team. Joe Cronin is the kind of versatile guy who loves getting dirt on his uniform, and the middle infield combination of Johnny Adams and Jake Palomaki are incredibly smooth. For a sinker baller like King, that's a huge asset. With a guy like Dunn, you just have to sit back and enjoy the show, especially if he's on his game.
At the dish, anybody in any given game can be the hero. This is a 1-9 lineup where no single guy is going to jump off the page. Scott Braren's been a welcome addition; early in the season, he wasn't even in the lineup and now he's the cleanup hitter. Michael Strem is probably the best all-around hitter. And Joe Cronin is one of those guys that you just love to see do well. There was a period where both Johnny Adams and Nick Sciortino led the team in hitting. But nobody is really going to jump off the page, save for maybe Palomaki's ability to get on base. Every game, I tried to come up with a different analogy to compare for him getting to first... I ran out of examples.
Justin Dunn (3-1, 1.35 ERA) and Mike King (7-4, 3.15) should start the weekend. Could there potentially be any shake ups to the starting rotation? Where and when do Jacob Stevens and Mike Adams come into the picture?
Dunn is going to start on Friday. Coach Gambino refers to it as a "traveling road show" because the guy is electric. He has a fastball that sits around 94-95 mph, and he can crank up to 98. He combines that with a slider that's filthy and a changeup that's pure evil for hitters. If he's dialed in, it's more than just a game because scouts frantically scribble on their pads and text away. He's projected anywhere from a top five pick to a top 15 pick.
King will get the ball on Saturday, which is a change of pace. He's a two-seam fastball pitcher with a sinker ball, which is why he feeds off good defense and vice-versa. He's a true groundball pitcher in every sense of the word. He's probably going to be drafted pretty high this year as well but not on the first day like Dunn.
Stevens is an interesting case study. He's a big boy (6'5" with a heavy ball), and even though he tailed off at the end after a record-breaking type start to the year, he's still a very good pitcher who will do some great things.
And then there's Jesse Adams (not your fault in calling him Mike - I've seen it happen a couple of times today).
Adams is a lefty control pitcher who started last year and opened up the year in the rotation. He was odd man out when Dunn moved into the rotation, but he made himself at home in the bullpen. He's able to power through hitters with a fastball in the low 90s and a curveball that dives past righty hitters.
5. What's the normal attendance like for BC home games? Are you able to attend most games? Are they typically solely attended by BC family and friends or is there a bit of a following from locals and students?
If you asked me before the season, I would've told you nobody cared about BC baseball. Those early season games, when freezing cold temperatures combined with the wind tunnel effect that comes with playing behind a football stadium, kept fans away - along with the fact that nobody really knew BC baseball was any good.
As the season's gone on, it's taken on a more party atmosphere. The students started showing up to get hammered in the nice weather. They got really loud and started impacting some of the games late in the year. It got pretty packed, especially when BC retired Pete Frates' number late in the year. Winning always helps.
That said, the numbers aren't going to be anywhere near what you're used to in the SEC. I try like hell to get out to as many games as possible. The program feels like a family, and everyone plays a role in making that possible, especially when you play in a bandbox like Shea Field.
One last thing to throw out there - you're going to see a team that plays every game with a man in their hearts. Boston College is kind of ground zero for all the ALS awareness that came with Pete Frates and the Ice Bucket Challenge. The school retired his jersey this year, and he's always been an inspiration. The team loves him, and you know they're going to play this weekend with Pete on their jerseys... literally since they'll probably be wearing wristbands with his initials and number.
6. Who can slam back more drinks? An Ole Miss frat daddy in New Orleans after Ole Miss wins the Sugar Bowl or Benny O'Flaherty outside of Fenway after the Red Sox win the World Series?
Is it bad if I know a guy named Benny O'Flaherty. I also know at least three Sullys, a Murph, an Obie, a Lefty, two Mickeys, a Mikey, and a Marky. Also know guys named Stumpy and Inky.
Nobody gets shattered like Bostonians. It's an art form.