SANFORD — A roller coaster of a road trip ended quietly for the University of Maine baseball team Wednesday night at Goodall Park, when a rescheduled game with Holy Cross was canceled after four pitches, two hits and a 45-minute rain delay.
That was one more pitch than Maine shortstop Michael Fransoso saw the previous night when he was hit in the face in his first at-bat in a 9-7 win at Boston College.
Although three games remain in the America East regular season, it is hard to imagine anyone other than Fransoso winning the conference Player of the Year award.
He is the best player on the best team, playing the most important position in the field. He leads the Black Bears in batting average (.359), runs (41), runs batted in (43) and is tied with Deering High grad Sam Balzano in stolen bases with 19.
“When he plays well,” Maine head coach Steve Trimper said of his senior from Portsmouth, N.H., “the team wins.”
Fransoso didn’t even put on a uniform Wednesday night against Holy Cross. He woke up Wednesday morning with his right eye swollen shut.
Batting left-handed against Boston College lefty Andrew Chin, a fifth-round draft pick out of high school by the Toronto Blue Jays, Fransoso said he initially thought the pitch would be a strike, then it started running in on him. Next thing he knew, he was on the ground.
“My first reaction was to check my eye to see if my eyeball was in,” he said. “I kind of lifted my head a little bit and saw all the blood pouring out. I took my hand and went right to my face and got blood all on my batting gloves. That’s when the coaches and trainers all ran out.”
Trimper was one of the first to reach Fransoso.
“When it happened, I got a pit in my stomach,” Trimper said. “It was bad.”
Fortunately for Fransoso, he was fitted for prescription glasses this winter because contact lenses irritated him while playing. His thick Oakley lenses bore the brunt of the impact. The blood came from the glasses cutting into his cheek and nose.
“It was still like getting a Mike Tyson punch to the face,” Trimper said, “so it did knock him for a loop. But we were so fortunate there were no broken bones, no damage to the eye.”
The team spent Tuesday night in Portsmouth, N.H., and Fransoso was able to see his own eye doctor Wednesday morning.
“They said no damage to the eye itself,” he said Wednesday afternoon at Goodall Park, a bag of ice in one hand. “Now it’s just waiting for the swelling to go down and my vision to come back. I’ve still got blurry vision.”
Trainer Amy Adamo used eight butterfly strips to close the wound. Fransoso spoke of possibly playing in Friday’s doubleheader or Saturday’s regular-season finale in Orono against the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. If not, he said he certainly would be ready for the four-team America East conference tournament, which begins Wednesday in Lowell, Mass.
“Any time your best player goes down like that, it’s very scary,” said sophomore Scott Heath of Westbrook. “It’s good to know he’s going to be all right, especially right before the tournament and right before all the really important games.”
Heath and Fransoso were among a handful of Black Bears who took advantage of Monday’s off day in Boston to attend Game 7 of the Bruins-Maple Leafs series and saw the improbable comeback and overtime victory for the home team.
“We did not leave early like everybody else,” Fransoso said. “We witnessed one of the most remarkable comebacks in sports history, so that was pretty cool.”
Fransoso grew up playing hockey, so he’s a fan of the game, but he’s nowhere near as passionate as Heath.
“Scott Heath is probably the most die-hard Bruins fan you will ever meet in your life,” Fransoso said. “I’ve never seen a kid so fired up in my life. He was like a 5-year-old on Christmas morning.”
The Black Bears had gone directly to Boston after taking two of three from Binghamton last weekend in New York to clinch their first America East title since 2006. They enter the final weekend of the regular season having won seven of nine, and will open the conference tournament Wednesday afternoon against a fourth seed to be determined.
Binghamton and Albany are in. Stony Brook and Hartford will square off to determine the final qualifier. All four teams are within three games of each other.
“We’re going to be resting a lot of our pitchers this weekend,” Trimper said. “The good news is, the fourth seed isn’t decided yet, so they’re not going to be able to rest their pitchers because they have to go after it to try to get the fourth seed.”
Whoever the opponent, Michael Fransoso is grateful for the opportunity to get back in the batter’s box and take a few more swings before his college career comes to a close.
“He’s had a great season,” Trimper said.
Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: