Forrest Chadwick is adjusting, thank you. He’s the University of Southern Maine hitting star who was so at ease last season playing alongside Tucker White and Nick Grady in their run to the NCAA Division III national baseball final.
They defined teammates and hitting and success. If you’re a fan of USM baseball, you couldn’t mention one without thinking of the other two.
They were the heart of the lineup that scored the runs that took USM to the title game against Linfield College last spring in Wisconsin. Chadwick can remember the ache of losing, 4-1. Followed by the realization the three would not play together again. White and Grady were seniors last May. That’s the cycle of college sports. High school sports, too. Everyone’s career is finite.
“Tucker and Nick were great players,” said Chadwick. “Losing them is a big loss but there’s new blood coming in. The team chemistry is still great.”
Maybe or probably. But in the world of sports the next game, week or season is never exactly the same.
Coach Ed Flaherty said as much when the 2014 team came together for the start of the season and the March trip to Florida.
“You really have to have some luck. What happened last year, you’ll never get that back,” said Flaherty, as blunt as ever. “It’s gone.”
Much like the Red Sox’s run to the World Series last year, USM’s success was unexpected. Flaherty-coached teams are always good, competitive. He is in his 29th season as head coach and while he can’t predict the future, there isn’t much he doesn’t know.
“Some of the players look around, see that we’ve got talent and some of the same people back, and think this season will be a continuation of last year. I can tell you, they’re not as hungry this year. Not yet. So already there’s something different.”
Tuesday’s practice was in the Costello Fieldhouse, where Flaherty’s voice and the ping of metal bats rang sharply. Outside, the Gorham campus was empty of life; there are no classes this week. Inside it was business as usual, of course.
Chadwick, the senior from Gardiner, won’t say he misses White and Grady as teammates and as a presence in the lineup. He can’t. In this, the USM baseball team is no different from the New England Patriots who suffered so many injuries. The next man on the depth chart steps up, no questions asked.
Chadwick hit .380 last season with eight home runs and 44 RBI. He had 23 multiple-hit games in the 56-game season. His bat took over games and his glove wasn’t bad, either. He can pitch in relief. He had a leg injury late in the season and played through it, sometimes limping as he made the turn at first to reach second on a double.
“When we kept winning through the (Little East Conference, NCAA regional, NCAA national tournaments), there was no way I was going to stay out. That was our chance (to win the national small college title.)”
He couldn’t sit and not somehow help his teammates. Chadwick, White and Grady supported all of their teammates but especially each other.
White, the outfielder from Vermont, became the Division III player of the year and signed recently to play for the Paderhorn Untouchables in a German professional league.
Grady, the third baseman from the small central Maine community of Whitefield, broke the 22-year USM record for hits in a season.
Chadwick, in fact, was on the radar of several major league teams but wasn’t drafted last year.
White and Grady also were locker-room leaders. White held his teammates accountable. “Sometimes it was just the way he looked at people,” said Flaherty. “Tucker would get your attention. That’s what we’re missing right now. Maybe it will become one person who’ll become that guy. Maybe it will be a group.”
USM is 12-4, mostly after nearly two weeks of steady play in Florida. Chadwick, feeling physically fit, is batting .321. Sophomore shortstop Sam Dexter of Oakland is hitting .339. Senior Chris Bernard of Scarborough has left behind last year’s arm troubles and is pitching again. He also hasn’t stopped hitting: .345. First baseman John Carey of South Portland is hitting .320. Paul McDonough of Wells is the freshman second baseman off to a good start, hitting .311. Sophomore pitchers Tyler Leavitt of North Andover, Mass., and Shyler Scates of Jefferson, near Whitefield, are both 3-1.
Familiar names, similar stats, but Flaherty’s words still ring: What happened last year is gone.
“Missing pieces is part of baseball,” said Chadwick. “We’ll find our identity.”
Steve Solloway can be reached at 791-6412 or [email protected]